AUGUSTA — A former U.S. Marine originally from the Oakland area was ordered to serve an initial four years behind bars for a drunken-driving crash that killed his sister and her boyfriend on June 16, 2012 in Belgrade.
Travis Lawler, 23, was on leave from the U.S. Marine Corps’ Camp Lejeune in North Carolina when the crash occurred about 11 p.m. after the car he was driving went off Horse Point Road in North Belgrade and struck a tree.
His sister, Kristin Lawler, 20, of Oakland, was pronounced dead at the scene. Her boyfriend, Jackson Bolduc, 25, of Belgrade, died of his injuries the next day.
A third passenger, Dylan Desroches, then 20, of Waterville, suffered serious injuries.
Lawler appeared for the hearing in Kennebec County Superior Court in full Marine dress uniform, his hair short, carrying his white hat. His lawyer later said he’d been discharged months ago but chose to wear the uniform during the hearing because “he was proudest when he was wearing it.”
Even before proceedings started, Lawler was in tears, wiping his eyes with white tissues and holding hands with a woman in a pink sundress. Lawler also was accompanied by his father.
Lawler sobbed aloud and barely managed to say “guilty” five times as he admitted to two charges each of manslaughter and aggravated criminal operating under the influence and one count of violating conditions of release.
“All I can say is I’m sorry,” Lawler said.
He said he regretted getting behind the wheel that night.
“I can’t take it back. I wish I could,” he said.
At one point, the judge asked whether Lawler needed time to gather himself, but his defense attorney, Scott Gurney, told him more time was unlikely to help.
Justice John O’Neil imposed a sentenced supported jointly by the prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Fernand LaRochelle and Gurney.
The full sentence is nine years in prison, with all but four years suspended, and four years probation, including community service as directed by the probation officer. Lawler’s driver’s license was suspended for 10 years.
Lawler is to report to jail Sept. 6 to begin his jail sentence.
O’Neil asked the attorneys about the sentencing agreement before accepting the guilty pleas. He told Lawler the manslaughter convictions carried prison terms of up to 30 years.
Left the scene
The night of the accident, Lawler left the scene on foot and was found about a half mile away on the shore of Great Pond.
In an interview with the Kennebec Journal shortly after the crash, Lawler said he was in the water when police found him. He said he did not recall leaving the accident scene, why he left or where the group had been before the crash.
He was indicted in September on two counts of manslaughter and two counts of aggravated criminal operating under the influence.
He has been free on bail since he pleaded not guilty at his arraignment. He later was indicted in March on a charge of violating conditions of release by contacting Desroches last September.
In October, Lawler was convicted in Waterville District Court of possession of 1 1/4 ounces of marijuana and fined $350. The offense occurred Aug. 4 in Winslow. At that time, his address was listed as Jacksonville, N.C.
LaRochelle said Monday in court that Lawler and Desroches had been at a friend’s birthday party in Sidney before going to Belgrade to meet his sister and her boyfriend at 6 p.m. at a beach on the lake.
“All four got on boat to go fishing, and alcohol was consumed on this fishing expedition,” LaRochelle said. Then the four got into Lawler’s car about 9 p.m. LaRochelle said. Desroches said the four went somewhere to smoke marijuana.
LaRochelle said an accident reconstructionist estimated the speed at the time of the crash was 72 mph, with the vehicle striking first one small tree, then a larger one before flipping over. Horse Point Road is a narrow, wooded residential road that begins at Route 8 and runs to nearby Great Pond.
As LaRochelle described the speed, the direction and the seating positions in the car — Kristin in the front and Bolduc behind Lawler — and the direction, Lawler shook his head, and clenched and unclenched his hands behind his back.
Emergency responders found the car on its roof and the driver missing. The other three were still in the vehicle.
LaRochelle said both Kristin Lawler and Bolduc had multiple injuries and died of skull fractures. Desroches had a broken arm.
A neighbor heard the crash, and told authorities he saw a young man who appeared to be disoriented standing outside the car and bleeding from the head, who then took off running.
Shortly afterward, Maine State Police got a call about a man stealing a kayak nearby.
The owner brought the kayak back to shore, along with Lawler. His blood alcohol content tested at 0.12, LaRochelle said. The legal limit for adults in Maine is 0.08.
LaRochelle said the bail violation charge stemmed from Lawler texting a farewell message to Desroches, saying he was sorry for everything he did and that he loved him.
‘I will never forgive Travis’
Victim impact statements were submitted in writing to the judge before the hearing, and two of those, as well as a poem, were read aloud by a victim/witness advocate. No other victims or family members were present in the courtroom.
The victim advocate read aloud two letters from Bolduc’s family.
“We don’t think four years behind bars is long enough for killing two people,” Dan and Wendy Bolduc wrote. They suggested — and the judge agreed — that Lawler be ordered to speak at driver’s education classes in an effort to prevent future tragedies.
Bolduc’s sister, Holly Bolduc, wrote, “I will never forgive Travis for what he did.”
A poem said the family spread Bolduc’s ashes on Great Pond.
Bill Lawler wrote, “I am the father of Kristin and also the father of the person responsible for that loss; since that day I feel I have lost two children.”
He said Lawler was a decorated Marine who served three tours in a war zone and was committed to the VA Maine Healthcare Systems-Togus when family members thought he was suicidal.
“I truly feel Travis is paying a price every day of his life,” Bill Lawler wrote. “He is constantly punishing himself for his actions that night.”
He asked O’Neil to adhere to the four-year initial jail term.
Lawler told O’Neil, “I’m wearing this uniform because it’s all I have in my life.” He said he always wanted to protect and to save people, and that the crash was the worst night of his life.
Gurney said Lawler had no criminal record before the crash. “He served his country proudly and was much decorated. To say this was out of character is an understatement.”
“I think that the plea arrangement negotiated here is a reasonable one,” O’Neil said. He said the probation will ensure that Lawler gets alcohol and drug counseling and the community service portion might mean “some benefit could come out of this absolutely tragic event.”
He also told Lawler that the convictions mean he can no longer possess firearms.
Betty Adams — 621-5631