WEST BATH – A Limestone man convicted of drunken driving for the ninth time, and whom a prosecutor called an “extreme risk to the public’s safety,” was sentenced Wednesday to serve seven years in prison.

Mark Burson, 56, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.35 – more than four times the legal limit – when he struck a police cruiser in Topsham last August and injured an officer.

He pleaded guilty to aggravated criminal operating under the influence, a Class B felony punishable by up to 10 years.

Judge Beth Dobson, sitting in Sagadahoc County Superior Court, split the difference between the maximum 10-year sentence recommended by the prosecution and the four years offered by Burson’s defense attorney.

His 7-year suspended prison sentence will be followed by three years of probation and he also will lose his license for 10 years.

Sagadahoc County Assistant District Attorney Alex Willette, who had argued for a straight 10-year sentence with no probation, said he didn’t think probation would work for Burson because it hasn’t in the past.

Still, Willette said he was pleased with Dobson’s decision.

“There is no doubt that Mr. Burson … has a problem with substance abuse but he crosses the line when he puts other people in danger,” he said.

In ruling to suspend the portion of Burson’s sentence, Dobson said she wanted him to have something hanging over his head when he is finally released – a reason to stay clean.

Burson’s attorney, Andrew Wright, had argued that a four-year sentence with three years probation was more appropriate. He said his client has always accepted responsibility for his actions.

Burson did so again on Wednesday when he briefly addressed the court. He apologized to the judge and also to Lucas Shirland of the Topsham Police Department, the officer whose cruiser he hit last year on an off-ramp on Interstate 295. Shirland was in the courtroom during Burson’s sentencing.

Shirland, who suffered minor neck injuries in the crash, also spoke.

“This could have been a lot worse,” he said. “He was driving very intoxicated and down a very busy road. It could have been a lot different situation.”

A Maine Sunday Telegram analysis of OUI convictions in 2013 looked at all offenses between 1982 and 2013. Of those, only 20 drivers had nine OUI offenses or more. However, 1,268 had at least five and 9,338 people had at least three drunk driving convictions.

The Maine Legislature passed a law in 2014 meant to target habitual drunk drivers like Burson.

Under previous law, if someone had a felony conviction for operating under the influence that was at least 10 years old, authorities could not use that conviction against the person when considering whether a new offense should be a felony or misdemeanor.

Now, all prior felony OUI convictions can be applied. An OUI becomes a felony if it’s a third OUI offense or if it results in a serious injury or fatal motor vehicle crash.

Wright said Burson is an industrial electrician and had been looking for work in Lewiston last summer when he crashed into the police cruiser and ended up back in jail. He said Burson has struggled with alcoholism for a long time.

His first drunken-driving conviction was in 1979 when he was a teenager. He had another in 1980 and then none until a decade later, when he had two in 1990.

Another long stretch passed before his fifth conviction, in 2003, followed by another in 2004 that landed him 21 days in jail and a 10-month loss of license.

In 2007, he was convicted of his first felony, and was sentenced to 42 months in prison with all but 10 months suspended. He ended up serving the entirety of that sentence, though, because he violated probation by driving drunk again in 2008. His license was suspended for six years after that.

He had no other convictions until last year’s crash.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

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