BY DAVID HENCH
Portland Press Herald
The man accused of driving drunk and hitting a family of cyclists returned to York County Jail after a clerical error allowed him to be free on bail over the Labor Day weekend.
David Labonte, 56, was freed after his father posted $100,000 bail on Aug. 28. He faces a Nov. 15 court date on charges of manslaughter and aggravated operating under the influence.
Superior Court Justice John O’Neil Jr. had required Labonte to post his own bail personally and not have it posted by someone else, on the reasoning that people are more likely to abide by bail conditions and show up for trial if their own money is at stake.
However, a mix-up in conveying that requirement to a bail commissioner allowed Labonte’s father to post his bail.
The York County District Attorney’s Office Tuesday morning moved to revoke bail, saying a family member had posted it in violation of the judge’s order. The judge agreed and Labonte turned himself over to sheriff’s deputies. The money was returned to his father. There was no effort to seek to have the bail money forfeited.
Labonte is charged with manslaughter and drunken driving in the death of Jamerico Elliott, 52, of Biddeford. Elliott died Aug. 7, five days after the crash at 364 Elm St.
Elliott’s 17-month-old son, Lavarice, was in critical condition at Maine Medical Center in Portland but has since been discharged.
Labonte has had his license suspended for drunken driving four previous times, according to state records. He had a cooler with an unopened beer in his truck with him at the time of the crash, according to court papers.
Police say Labonte’s blood alcohol content was between 0.15 and 0.17 percent, about twice the legal threshold for drunken driving. Because of his prior convictions, Labonte was not allowed to have any alcohol in his system while driving.
After his arrest, Labonte’s attorney filed a motion with the court seeking to allow his family to post bail, noting that Labonte’s father was prepared to post it. Justice Paul Fritzsche denied the motion.
Two separate explanations for last week’s bail mistake have surfaced.
One of Labonte’s new attorneys, Neale Duffett, said that the requirement that no third party post bail was written on the back of the bail sheet that was given to the bail commissioner.
“There was an error made in the clerk’s office, or somehow that did not get transmitted to the jail and did not get transmitted to the bail commissioner,” Duffett said. “So when a family member went in, it was recorded by the bail commissioner as third-party bail.”
“We didn’t see the back (of the bail sheet) until this morning,” he said.
Duffett and co-counsel Gerard Conley now represent Labonte and did at the court hearing Tuesday. His previous attorney, William Trafidlo, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.
Duffett could not explain why Paul Labonte sought to post bail even though the funds were supposed to come only from his son. Duffett said the court process can be confusing to people who are not familiar with the system.
Mary Ann Lynch, spokeswoman for the Maine Judicial Branch, said the bail stipulations, including no third-party bail, were entered into the state’s computer but a paper copy was not sent to the bail commissioner, as is customary.
“We send a paper commitment order (to the commissioner). In this particular case, as far as we can tell, a commitment order did not go over that would have identified no third-party bail. It was an oversight on the part of the clerk’s office,” Lynch said.
“As far as we can tell, there was no mistake on part of the bail commissioner,” she said.
Reached at his home on Tuesday, Paul Labonte said he did not want to comment on his son’s case.
“We’ll just wait for the trial,” he said. “What else can we do?”
York County District Attorney Kathryn Slattery said last week that family members are not prohibited from giving money to a defendant that he could then use to post bail. However, she said she did not learn until late Friday that the bail commissioner had indicated that the bail was posted by Paul Labonte, not David Labonte.
Prosecutors then moved immediately on Tuesday morning, after the holiday weekend, to have bail revoked.
David Labonte is unlikely to be able to raise the money himself. He is a self-employed painter who was living with his parents to save money.
Chief Roger Beaupre, of the Biddeford police, who had criticized Labonte’s release on bail, applauded the district attorney’s office for moving swiftly to have him returned to jail.
Labonte was not charged with violating bail conditions.
Labonte’s next court appearance is scheduled for Nov. 15. He is likely to be indicted before then.