Somehow, a man convicted of vehicular manslaughter just nine months ago still had his license last week when his driving left another motorist fighting for her life. How did that happen? Depends on who you ask.

The question came up last Friday, after Oxford police say they tried to pull over a pickup truck that was being driven erratically. Instead of stopping, police say the driver, Ethan Rioux-Poulios, 26, of Woodstock, took off, eventually crashing head-on into a Ford Escape driven by Nicole Kumiega, 28, of Portland. Her injuries were so serious she had to be evacuated by helicopter to Maine Medical Center.

Emergency responders work at the scene of the head-on crash on Oxford Street in Paris that left one driver critically injured. One driver stole a vehicle after the crash and led police on a chase, officials say. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Meanwhile, police say, Rioux-Poulios ran away and stole a car, leading police on another chase before he was finally arrested.

The whole incident was a horrifying replay of the 2019 crash in which Rioux-Poulios – again attempting to outrun police – plowed into the rear end of a car on Route 26 in Woodstock. This time, he killed 70-year-old John Pikiell of Norway.

When the case finally came to court last summer, Rioux-Poulios pleaded guilty to manslaughter and received a seven-year sentence with five years suspended. With credit for time served in jail while the case was pending, he was released in August.

What happened next is a matter of dispute. The Bureau of Motor Vehicles says it received a letter from the prosecutor in the case, informing the bureau about the conviction so it could suspend Rioux-Poulios’ license. But the notification was supposed to come from the court, not from the DA, and attempts to notify the prosecutor were unsuccessful. It appears that the matter was lost in a shuffle of paper records.


That sounded like a regrettable but understandable error made by busy people in different branches of state government, until a spokesperson for the court system issued a statement suggesting that the problem goes much deeper.

Although Rioux-Poulios had pleaded guilty to killing someone with a motor vehicle, he was not convicted of any offense “legally related to motor vehicles or to the operation of a vehicle,” wrote State Court Administrator Amy Quinlan. “As such, suspension would not have been an authorized sentence to impose by the court under (the manslaughter statute).”

In other words, it wasn’t that someone in the court system had failed to report the conviction to the agency – it was that there had been nothing to report.

Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, who oversees the BMV, told a reporter that “my head exploded” after reading the statement. Ours too.

According to Quinlan’s logic, the state could suspend a driver’s license for a motor vehicle violation like speeding. But if the speeder ran over a pedestrian and was charged with aggravated assault or manslaughter, there would be no suspension because the offense comes from a different part of the criminal code. It makes absolutely no sense.

Would a suspended license have kept Rioux-Poulios at home last Friday? Judging from his record of driving offenses, probably not. But it might have made a difference. For instance, the truck he crashed was registered to someone else. Under Maine law, you can be charged with a crime for lending a car to an unlicensed driver who uses it to commit a crime. A suspended license may have been enough to make the owner think twice before handing over the keys.

Rioux-Poulios is entitled to his day in court, but the court system and the BMV shouldn’t wait to get to the bottom of the dispute over when people who use their cars and trucks as deadly weapons should lose their driving privileges.

Call it a “bureaucratic error” or a “systemic problem,” but one thing is clear: What happened was wrong, and officials in the court system and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles need to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

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