The woman charged with driving 124 mph on the Maine Turnpike with her two young children in the car without car seats may still be driving legally.
Cheryl Gilson, 25, who has an address in Cornish, is free on bail pending a court appearance June 18 on charges of endangering the welfare of a child, driving to endanger and criminal speeding. If convicted of either of the latter two charges, she will be classified a habitual offender – not for the first time – and lose her driving privileges for three years.
But for now, Gilson’s license is still valid.
“Although driving is a privilege and not a right, it is still an important enough privilege that the government can’t just take it away from people without providing them with due process, which basically requires notice and an opportunity for a hearing,” said Kristine Hanly, a defense attorney in Portland.
Gilson was driving her 2009 Hyundai Sonata north on the turnpike Sunday when she was stopped by state Trooper Roger Teachout at Exit 47 in Portland. He said he had followed her for 10 miles, clocking her going 127 mph in a 65 mph zone and 117 mph in a 55 mph zone. He said she was weaving in busy traffic.
In the car were her children, ages 3 and 5, and three men, none of whom had a valid license. They were evasive about where they were going so fast, Teachout said. He handcuffed Gilson and took her to the Cumberland County Jail after she made arrangements for a friend to get her children.
Gilson posted $250 and was released on bail. Her bail conditions prohibit any new criminal conduct but do not prevent her from driving. Bail commissioners can impose that as a condition but rarely do, said defense lawyers.
Hanly said a tough legal threshold must be met to make driving a bail violation.
Bail is set to secure a person’s appearance in court, preserve the integrity of the court process and protect public safety, while meeting those goals in the least restrictive way possible, according to state law.
Prosecutors sometimes argue for defendants’ licenses to be suspended as a safety measure, but judges are reluctant to make that a bail condition unless a person’s license already has been suspended by the Secretary of State’s Office.
In a case of drunken driving, or when someone refuses to take a blood alcohol test, the state is automatically notified and moves to suspend the person’s license, though the driver still has an opportunity for a hearing.
Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson said her office seeks bail conditions to prohibit someone from driving “when the person has indicated to us that that person is a clear danger and menace on the road. It’s a case-by-case situation.”
Anderson said it is too early to say whether her office will seek to have Gilson’s driving privileges suspended because she has not yet seen any reports from the case.
“It sounds really bad,” Anderson said. “She had two kids in the car without car seats. Clearly, this appears to be an egregious case.”
The most likely way for the state to suspend Gilson’s license in the absence of a conviction is if Teachout submits an “adverse driving report,” which calls the attention of the Secretary of State’s Office to a person’s driving because it poses a risk to the public. Often, an adverse driving report is submitted when an officer finds that a person’s medical condition prevents them from driving safely.
The state can suspend a person’s license based on the contents of the report.
The state had not received an adverse driving report from Teachout by Tuesday afternoon, said Raphaelle Silver, communications director for Secretary of State Matt Dunlap. Teachout was not working Tuesday and it’s unclear whether he plans to submit a report.
Gilson has a history of driving violations, with three speeding tickets, four license suspensions and a three-year revocation in 2007 for being a habitual offender.
Since her license was reinstated in 2010, Gilson has had one speeding ticket, in 2012. She had no violations in 2011 or 2013.
James Boulos, a criminal defense attorney based in Saco, said that if Gilson is convicted, she will definitely lose her license for three years.
“The aggravating factor here is not so much 124 mph as it is two kids in the car that are unbelted (in car seats), and the secretary of state will look at those factors – that in conjunction with her past record,” Boulos said.
Gilson had two previous misdemeanor cases in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court. Both were dismissed after she met certain conditions, including staying out of trouble for six months. Details of the cases were not available.
Westbrook police charged her in 2011 with endangering the welfare of a child “by violating the duty of care or protection,” but the court papers did not elaborate on the circumstances.
She was charged with theft in August 2012 in Westbrook, but the files include no specifics.
Gilson, who does not have a listed phone number, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.