AUGUSTA — A Scarborough man who admitted his driving caused the death of a Winthrop couple in a November 2013 crash was cleared of manslaughter charges Tuesday and apologized in court to the grieving family.

Jeffrey E. Ray, 45, was indicted in August in connection with the Nov. 21, 2013, crash on U.S. Route 202 that killed Napoleon Richard St. Laurent and Patricia St. Laurent. Napoleon St. Laurent, 80, died at the scene, and his wife, who was 74, died four days later.

On Tuesday in Kennebec County Superior Court, the state dismissed the two charges of manslaughter against Ray, and instead Ray admitted to two counts of committing a motor vehicle violation causing death, two civil rather than criminal charges.

Ray addressed the 15 or so members of the St. Laurent family and Justice Robert Mullen at the hearing in the Capital Judicial Center.

“I’m really sorry. I’m so sorry,” Ray said. “I can’t imagine losing my parents, and I am so sorry. Did I cause that accident that morning in November? Yes, I did, and I am so sorry.”

Ray broke down in tears while standing at a lectern in the courtroom.

The judge suspended Ray’s license for three years and told him to turn in his driver’s license to the court on Tuesday. Mullen also imposed a $4,000 court fine but suspended it in favor of requiring Ray to make a $4,000 contribution to a scholarship fund that would be administered by the victims’ family.

“We talked about that with the family,” said Deputy District Attorney Paul Cavanaugh. “That’s a better use for the money than giving it to the state.”

The St. Laurents’ children, all adults, addressed the judge, telling him about their parents and the legacy they left in the Winthrop community where they ran their business, helped with a food bank, and cared for numerous foster children as well as their own while also helping others.

They asked the judge to impose the maximum penalties available under the statute for each count: two $4,000 fines and two four-year license suspensions.

Bob St. Laurent, the youngest of the couple’s children, said he read about Ray’s record of 25 moving violations and 12 license suspensions.

“We feel he has no right being on the road much less driving a 10-ton truck,” he said.

“Mr. Ray caused an accident that will haunt me the rest of my life,” said Jim St. Laurent, of Winthrop.

He said that on March 31 he closed JA & Sons, an automotive repair business that he had run with his parents for more than 23 years because he could not do all the work alone.

“I am selling my home and leaving the area,” Jim St. Laurent said. “My life has changed drastically and will never be the same.”

Michael St. Laurent told the judge about his parents helping out with his rafting business, and his mother cooking for the larger trips and his father doing some mechanical work.

“My guides would always ask me, ‘What do I call your parents?’ I said, ‘You call them mom and dad.’ If you called them Dick or Pat, they probably wouldn’t answer.” He said he was extremely disappointed the state could not make the case for manslaughter.

The crash occurred shortly before 9 a.m. as the St. Laurents’ 1996 Ford E-150 van was stopped in the eastbound lane waiting to make a left turn onto Royal Street in Winthrop.

Ray, driving a 2007 Mitsubishi box truck east on Route 202, hit the van from behind, police said. The impact pushed both vehicles into the right-side guardrail and down the road before stopping.

The van, owned by JA & Sons, and the box truck, owned by Lewiston-based Pure-Stat, were both destroyed.

Cavanaugh told the judge that Ray was driving a commercial delivery truck and sending and receiving text messages, but not during the time frame when the crash occurred.

“There are lots of little things wrong,” Cavanaugh said, but the state did not conclude they would support the criminal charges against Ray. “A little bit of speed, a little bit of prescription medicine, some time on the phone.”

He also acknowledged the frustration for the St. Laurent family and asked the judge to impose consecutive sentences.

Ray, who was also injured in the crash, was charged in both counts in the indictment with causing the death of another person “recklessly or with criminal negligence.” Ray had pleaded not guilty at his arraignment.

“We have all known for many many months this was an accident,” Walter McKee, Ray’s attorney, told the judge. “Jeff was traveling in that area in excess of the speed. It is not uncommon. The net effect of that was two people tragically got killed.”

McKee said Ray fully cooperated with investigators and should receive the minimum 14-day license suspension, particularly after living so long with the manslaughter charges hanging over him.

Ray’s father and two of his friends told the judge about Ray’s caring for his daughter, his ailing mother in Lewiston.

“He is a caring, sensitive, loving person who has helped many people throughout the years,” said Bob Ray, who also turned directly to the family in the courtroom to give his sympathy to them.

Mullen told the St. Laurent family he frequently travels the road where the accident occurred.

“I will never be at that intersection again without thinking about your parents” he said.

He also read aloud the couple’s obituary.

Mullen rejected imposing consecutive sentences, saying he wanted to provide closure for the family and avoid an appeal.

Mullen told the St. Laurent family, “I’m very, very sorry for what’s happened to you. I hope things will get better.”

Attorney Karen Boston, who had accompanied the family members at the hearing, said she intended to file a wrongful death lawsuit shortly against Ray on behalf of the estate of the deceased couple.

McKee said “police errors” led to the manslaughter charges that were ultimately dropped.

“The initial report alleged that Jeff was driving more than 30 miles per hour over the speed limit,” McKee said via email. “That report was changed three times, reducing the alleged speed the last two times. It is now clear that Jeff was likely driving, at most, between 50-60 mph on this broad section of Route 202 with a speed limit of 45 mph when the accident took place, a far cry from 75+ mph.”

McKee added, “This case is everyone’s worst nightmare — being charged with a crime that you absolutely didn’t commit.”

Ray’s driving record includes a number of suspensions and convictions, including operating under the influence and operating after suspension, according to records at the Maine Secretary of State’s office. Ray also was convicted on an operating under the influence charge stemming from a motor vehicle stop on Feb. 21, 2014, in Scarborough, which was after the fatal crash.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.