The North Yarmouth man who struck and killed a mother of four with his car in Gray in April will not face charges, the Cumberland County District Attorney’s office said Thursday.

Jay Westra, 58, struck and killed Samantha Rinaldi, 40, of Gray, as she walked along Yarmouth Road around 7:46 p.m. on April 27, the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office said at the time.

Westra initially was charged with operating under the influence of alcohol, but those charges will be dropped, Cumberland County District Attorney Jonathan Sahrbeck said. Westra consented to a blood draw at the time of the crash, which is standard for any driver involved in a fatality. The blood test revealed Westra’s blood-alcohol level to be 0.047, below the legal limit of 0.08.

Jay Westra Photo courtesy of Jay Westra

Westra is the widower of Kristin Westra, a beloved teacher at Chebeague Island School who went missing for six days last fall before her body was found in the woods a short distance from their home. She took her own life.

Rinaldi was the mother of four children: Christian Ballard, 20, Griffin Ballard, 16, Jaden Ballard, 15, and Kali Ballard, 14. They lived with Rinaldi’s parents, said her former husband, Aaron Ballard.

The decision to decline prosecution, as well as the reasons behind it, have been discussed with Rinaldi’s family, the DA’s office said in a statement.

“Part of the decision was looking at all the evidence with the investigation,” Sahrbeck said in a brief phone interview. “There were also no other signs of negligence or distracted driving. It didn’t rise to that level of being a criminal offense.”

Sahrbeck deferred all detailed questions about the case to Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Liberman.

In a phone interview, Liberman said that when the crash occurred, Rinaldi was walking in the middle of Westra’s lane with her back to traffic and that there was an oncoming car traveling in the opposing lane. Visibility was low because it was dusk and raining.

Liberman said it was unknown whether Rinaldi was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the crash. The blood sample authorities took from her after the crash did not contain enough blood to test.

Liberman said Westra was traveling the speed limit, was not distracted and was not weaving or driving erratically. Together, the facts led prosecutors to conclude that Westra’s conduct did not meet the legal standard for charging him with a crime.

“I think poor visibility is likely the cause of the crash,” Liberman said.

Westra was initially arrested because the officer smelled alcohol and because Westra admitted to having consumed alcohol before the crash, Sahrbeck said. He was not given a breath test. Westra, however, did not perform well on field sobriety tests, which Liberman said could have been a result of nervousness.

The decision to decline prosecution came as a huge relief for Westra, said his attorney, Walter McKee.

McKee said Westra had two beers that night, nothing more, and witnesses made clear to police that the crash was unavoidable.

“Jay has been living under the cloud of this case, all on the heels of his wife’s death, all the while knowing that he was innocent,” McKee said in a written statement.

“What Jay went through here could happen to any of us. He was innocent all along. Thankfully the DA’s Office did the hard and honest work to sort through the evidence and they came to the one and only conclusion: Jay Westra was not OUI that night and did nothing wrong at all.”

For prosecutors to charge Westra, they would have had to prove that he was criminally negligent, or reckless. Criminal negligence is defined as a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable driver in similar circumstances would apply.

 

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