A Somerville man behind the wheel when his pickup truck struck and killed a local doctor riding her bicycle in 2016 near her home in Windsor pleaded guilty late last month to a traffic infraction.

The civil case was resolved in an agreement late last month between James M. Mayo, 23, and state prosecutors, with Mayo pleading to the civil charge of committing a traffic infraction causing death. He lost his license for three months and was assessed a $1,000 fine.

Mayo struck the late Dr. Carol Eckert Oct. 10, 2016, on Wingood Road in Windsor, telling police the sun was in his eyes and he didn’t see her until he heard a noise and stopped because he thought he had hit someone.

Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney said while members of Eckert’s family wanted a steeper penalty for Mayo, the accident report concluded the reason the accident occurred was the sun was in Mayo’s eyes. The report also indicated that neither speed nor alcohol were factors in the crash. She said given that fact, the resolution to the case agreed to Jan. 31 was appropriate.

“The accident report concluded the reason for the collision is James Mayo had the sun in his eyes at the time,” Maloney said. “The report did not conclude that wrongdoing lead to the collision, I have to take that into consideration.

“We have many car crashes that result in death where we’re not able to charge anyone, because there was no one at fault in causing the accident,” she added. “I do respect that Dr. Carol Eckert was a tremendous person, and gave enormously to the community. Sadly, there is no way to bring her back.”

The Bicycle Coalition of Maine issued a news release this week expressing disappointment in the plea agreement and warning that the punishment “does very little to deter unsafe driving and perhaps may even encourage it in the future.”

“While the Coalition certainly appreciates that it is hard for the state and the court to arrive at appropriate penalties for a case like this, from our perspective, the decision does not adequately deliver justice and does not promote safe behaviour on Maine roadways,” Jim Tasse, advocacy director for the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, said in the release. “When a driver can’t see, Maine law requires the driver to slow down and/or stop his vehicle.”

Walter McKee, who represented Mayo in the case, said the fine and loss of license was a fair resolution.

“This was an accident, pure and simple,” McKee said. “It could happen to anyone. Dr. Eckert’s death was an unspeakable tragedy. James indicated that not a day goes by that he does not think about what he did.”

Maloney said Eckert’s husband and her son, who couldn’t be reached for comment Friday, both said in court they would have liked a steeper penalty for Mayo. But they also spoke, Maloney said, about how Eckert, who knew Mayo, would not have wanted the crash to define his life.

Family members of Eckert, Maloney said, “spoke in court and said they would have liked a steeper penalty, which is completely understandable. They’ve lost someone they love dearly. I’d feel the same way if I lost someone in my family.”

McKee said Mayo apologized directly to Eckert’s husband after the court hearing.

He also said the Bicycle Coalition of Maine is entitled to its opinion, but he disagrees with it in this case.

“Every person who has been in an accident would think back and do things differently,” McKee said. “The prosecutor, the judge, and the defense had the full measure of information about what really happened as well as who James Mayo is, and all agreed this was the right result.”

A report by Sgt. Michael Dutil, of the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office, indicated that Mayo started chest compressions on the bicyclist, identified as Eckert by a wallet found nearby, while a passenger in his pickup called 911.

Eckert, who had been wearing a helmet, suffered head injuries and fractures and was unconscious when rescue personnel arrived.

Maloney said previously Mayo was driving “slightly over the speed limit” and didn’t give the bicyclist 3 feet of space, as required of drivers by Maine law. She said the accident report specifically indicated that speeding did not contribute to the collision.

state statute says, “A person commits the civil violation of motor vehicle violation resulting in death if that person, while operating a motor vehicle and committing a traffic infraction, causes the death of another person.”

The penalties include a fine of up to $5,000, some of which can be satisfied by community service work; and a license suspension of 14 days to four years.

The civil infraction has been charged in a handful of publicized cases across the state since its adoption in 2009.

Attorney Lauri Boxer-Macomber, a member of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine board of directors, said the word “accident” should not be used to describe the crash that took Eckert’s life. She said, in the news release, that although the state prosecutor never put the case before a judge or jury for fact-finding, she believes a strong argument could have been made in court that if Mayo had been operating at a safer speed and/or had immediately slowed down or stopped when he felt his vision was compromised, Eckert still would be alive today.

Eckert was a physician for the 11 health centers operated by HealthReach Network.

A memorial bicycle ride in Eckert’s honor, which also is meant to help promote bicycle safety in Maine, “Share the Road with Carol,” took place in September 2017 and has become an annual event.

 

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]
Twitter: @kedwardskj

 

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