Two state senators from central Maine say they will introduce legislation to eliminate a section of state law that allows someone whose license is permanently revoked to reapply for a driver’s license 10 years after release from prison.

The proposal comes on the heels of a ruling in Kennebec County Superior Court this month that allows a former Skowhegan man convicted in a drunken driving, triple fatal crash in 1996 to reapply for his license, even though his license had been ordered suspended for life. The court ruling highlighted an apparent contradiction in state law that on the one hand allows a license to be revoked “permanently,” yet also outlines an appeals process for getting a license back.

Sen. Scott W. Cyrway, R-District 16, and Rep. Thomas R. W. Longstaff, D-Waterville, both members of the Joint Standing Committee Criminal Justice and Public Safety, said in separate interviews that they want to take out the language in state law that allows a person to petition for license reinstatement.

“This is upsetting to me to think that ‘permanently’ does not mean permanent,” Cyrway said. “I am sorry, but in the dictionary it has a meaning — forever — no change. This may have to be changed to ‘permanent with no chance for appeal.'”

The question being asked for the last 10 years — and again this month — is how Bryan Carrier, 39, of Fairfield, who was convicted and ordered by the court to permanently surrender his driver’s license, could be allowed to reapply for his license.

The license ban was intended to be permanent, a lifetime punishment, say family members and friends of the victims in the deadly crash.

But it wasn’t permanent and the fallout from the ruling last week by Superior Court Justice William Stokes was palpable.

While perhaps difficult to understand, there is no contradiction in existing Maine law, says E. James Burke, a professor of law at the University of Maine School of Law.

Burke said Justice Stokes was correct under Maine law to allow Carrier to seek license reinstatement despite objections from family and friends of the crash victims. He said Stokes appropriately interpreted the statute.

“I don’t have any problem with what Stokes did. I think that the statute is not irrational and wrong and internally inconsistent,” Burke said.

Cyrway’s colleague, Longstaff, also said the statute is clear, but he reads it differently: that the permanent revocation of license is imposed.

But two paragraphs down in the law, there is a provision for the person to be able to try to get a driving license reinstated. If there is another offense after the license is reinstated, then the revocation becomes permanent without possibility of appeal — but without that, the possibility remains open.

Longstaff said the answer to correcting the contradiction in state law would not be to remove the word “permanent” — because it would weaken the law — but rather to remove the entire section for appeal from the law.

“My own feeling is I don’t think that the person’s license ought to be reinstated,” he said. “So rather than remove the word ‘permanently’ when it doesn’t mean ‘permanently,’ what I would say is remove that section of the law; to have an act to remove that provision so there’s no way to get another hearing; to remove the possibility of that option.

“I would work with Scott (Cyrway) to sponsor or co-sponsor a bill to delete that provision from the law. That option of getting it reinstated would be gone. It’s something I could be comfortable sponsoring, that’s for sure.”

Yet the revision to the statute, if it passes, would probably not apply to Carrier. He would only be subject to the provisions according to the law in effect at the time of the crime.

Cyrway said he would have to send a title request to the reviser’s office and then have language added to the proper section to get the law changed. It would be sent to Legislative Counsel as an emergency request for this upcoming session, he said.

If approved, the revision would have to go to the Senate to get referred to a committee. Once passed, it would go to the Senate for a vote, then to the House and back to the Senate, and then to the governor. If not vetoed, it would become law.

“It is not a simple process, but it is important,” Cyrway said.

WHAT’S PERMANENT?

In the 1996 crash, Carrier drove a pickup truck at high speed through a stop sign on East Ridge Road in Skowhegan and slammed into a van that was heading east on U.S. Route 2.

Killed in the fiery crash that Nov. 22, 1996, night were Arlyce Jewell, 42, and her 10-year-old son, Alex, and Elbert Knowles, who was 15. Also injured was Nicole Johnson, 17, of Skowhegan. Carrier’s blood-alcohol level after the crash was 0.11, over the legal limit of 0.08.

He pleaded guilty in 1997 in Somerset County Superior Court to three counts of manslaughter and three counts of aggravated operating under the influence. Carrier was sentenced to 10 years in prison with all but two years suspended, six years of probation and 2,000 hours of community service on the manslaughter conviction. On the OUI charge, Carrier was sentenced to two years in prison to run at the same time as the manslaughter sentence and ordered to pay $6,000 in fines.

In addition, his driver’s license was ordered to be permanently suspended, per state law that applies to vehicular manslaughter cases in which the driver is intoxicated.

Carrier was released on March 30, 1999, from the Charleston Correctional Facility.

He has appealed his lifetime revocation three times, including during an emotionally charged Bureau of Motor Vehicles hearing in September. But each time, Carrier’s request to reapply for a license has been denied.

He can now try again, according to Stokes, who said that state law does, in fact, permit re-application for re-licensure. The law, passed by the Maine Legislature in 1993, is clear, Burke — and earlier, Stokes — said.

“People can grow and change and learn from mistakes,” Burke said in an interview. “And if that happens, perhaps we should let them now live the life they have earned to live.”

The criteria for reinstatement involves the convicted person’s life since the initial revocation: Has he or she shown that he has not re-offended? Is he a working member of the community? Has he sufficiently proven that he is deserving of reinstatement?

Burke said the politics are such that the family says, “‘My person is dead’ — there’s no way around that conundrum.”

Stokes said in the order dated May 18 that if the Legislature intended to limit the number of times someone could petition for reinstatement, it would have done so.

Timothy Feeley, spokesman for Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, said the office will be reviewing the decision and consulting with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles about their options and would not comment further. Mills herself did not respond to a request for comment on the Carrier decision.

Another professor at the University of Maine School of Law, Jeffrey Thaler, said the license revocation is “permanent” under the law only until it’s reinstated. He said there is no contradiction in the law because “it doesn’t say ‘for life.'”

“It’s permanent under the section until a petition for reinstatement is granted,” Thaler said. “I know what the word ‘permanent’ means, too, and technically, if somebody doesn’t seek reinstatement, then it is permanent. You have to read the whole statute, including all the subsections.”

Thaler said misunderstanding of Maine law happens all the time, which is why he teaches a course in interpreting statutes and regulations.

“I teach how important it is. Every comma, every semi-colon, every period, every word is important and that if you have ambiguity, then that creates problems in enforcement and in court,” he said. “Certainly the Legislature could seek to change (the statute) and it could remove the subsection, but for the moment, the subsection is in there and you can not ignore it.”

Burke said, citing the statute, that a person who is permanently banned from having a driver’s license is allowed to petition for relicensure after 10 years. It is not a contradiction, he said.

“To me, no, although I understand the victims’ families hurt,” Burke said. “They are not inherently contradictory.”

He said if the driver can show why that permanent suspension ought not to continue, he has a right to try and get his license back.

LIVES CHANGED

A total of 115,607 drivers have been convicted only once of driving drunk, according to state records on OUI convictions which date to 1980 and include out-of-state drivers who offended in Maine. More than 16,000 drivers have had four or more drunken driving convictions since 1980, and one driver has been convicted of OUI 18 times, an analysis by the Maine Sunday Telegram found.

Maine, like the vast majority of states, does not permanently revoke driver’s licenses — no matter how many OUI convictions a driver has on his or her record — except in cases where a fatality is involved and the person was under the influence of intoxicants.

Kristen Schulze Muszynski, director of communications at the Department of the Secretary of State, said in an interview that because Maine does not have a “permanent revocation and lifetime ban” law for a driver’s license, there is no way to know how many people have been ordered to have their licenses suspended permanently under the statute that applied to Carrier.

Department database administrators do not have that type of “flag” in its driver license database, she said.

“So, it is not a searchable item,” she said. “We do note license suspensions with ‘no eligibility date,’ which is how Mr. Carrier’s license is denoted, but this notation could mean a number of things that are not similar to his situation, such as an open-ended license suspension until a fine is paid.”

At the September hearing with an officer from the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Carrier said he was sorry for the accident and members of his family were there for support.

“I am truly sorry for what I’ve done,” Carrier said, adding that he cannot take away the pain the families continue to feel. “I hope that someday you can forgive me.”

Carrier, who still works for the family business, Carrier Chipping, said he is not the same person he was 20 years ago. He said he is married with two children and relies on his mother to take him places and often rides a bicycle to work. He said he has undergone counseling.

But family members, including Tracey Rotondi, of Athens, whose mother, Arlyce, and brother, Alex, were killed that night, said the crash also put a distance between her and her father, Royce Jewell. She said the family was never the same after the accident.

Contacted last week about the court ruling and language in state law, Rotondi said that Carrier accepted the agreement of a lifetime license suspension when he took the deal and he should live with it.

“He did hardly any jail time for the lives he took,” she said. “If he didn’t agree with it at the time, that’s when he should have said something. Not now. To keep putting us through this is awful. He doesn’t care about us or the lives he has changed. I think that when you take a deal, you should have to stick to it no matter what the law says. It was a judge’s order.

“Yes,” she added, “I guess it should be changed because basically the sentence from the judge meant nothing.”

Burke was firm in his opinion that state law isn’t contradictory, even knowing the pain the family continues to feel, but added that state law that applies to this case is not “internally inconsistent.”

“I understand why it may read that way to a layperson who says that if it’s permanent, how come you can get it taken off?” he said. “But the law, generally speaking, doesn’t condemn somebody to a lifetime restriction with no chance to change it if the circumstances clearly shift.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

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Twitter:@Doug_Harlow