Mason works to toughen texting laws as Lowe awaits a decision

By Erin Place

PARIS—While Gerrold Mason again awaits the fate of the Oxford woman—who a jury in May said was responsible for the death of his daughter and another passenger—to be handed down this time by a judge, he’s busy setting up educational opportunities highlighting the dangers and sometimes deadly results of texting and driving.

On Thursday, July 31, 21-year-old Kristina Lowe appeared in Superior Court with her two defense attorneys, Chelsea Peters and James Howaniec, before Active-Retired Justice Robert Clifford. The legal team filed three motions on behalf of their client—asking for a judgement for acquittal, the declaration of a mistrial and the issuance of a retrial. In May, a jury convicted Lowe of two counts of manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident for the Jan. 7, 2012 high-speed accident that killed 16-year-old Rebecca Mason and 19-year-old Logan Dam, both of West Paris.

Outside of the courtroom last week, Gerrold Mason spoke about the work he’s done to help toughen two different texting and driving laws in the state after testimony during Lowe’s trial was given by her father, Earl Lowe, stating his daughter heard her phone ring moments before the crash and she looked down to see who it was. Mason worked closely with then-Secretary of State Charles Summers and traveled to August after his daughter’s death to testify in favor of tougher distracted driving restrictions.

“All of the laws on young drivers were toughened up, not just texting,” Mason said. “It was a very bipartisan [effort]. … It’s the way government is supposed to work.”

In April 2012, Gov. Paul LePage signed into law An Act to Encourage Responsible Teen Driving. The bill increased the minimum fine for texting while driving from $100 to $250, increased fines and created longer license suspension periods for violating conditions on a juvenile provisional license and increased the time a repeat offender would lose his or her license.

“I think it’s definitely made a difference. I see a lot less people texting and driving with those two bills,” Mason said.

Mason’s efforts align with a new distracted driving campaign by Gov. Paul LePage, Maine Bureau of Highway Safety and Maine State Police launched Tuesday called “One Text or Call, Can Wreck it All.” Signage has been posted on large commercial trucks traveling throughout the state, and if re-elected, the governor promises to toughen existing laws against cellphone use while driving.

Recently, Mason began working with a group called Every Person Matters, which has reached out high schools across the region to conduct educational programs on the dangers of texting and driving. He said the program is similar yet not the same as ones put on by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and Every Person Matters is also looking to set up scholarships for local high schoolers.

“What they do is have the seniors of these schools put it on. They have them text and drive through the cones with a golf cart at winter carnivals. That type of thing is going to be going on,” Mason said, adding he didn’t know all the details of the program because it hasn’t been finalized yet.

He’s also been in contact with the police chief in Kennebunk, who’s department has received grant money to put on a dramatization of a deadly texting and driving accident, along with following the court proceedings.

“I proposed to him, ‘Don’t use something fake, use me. Use the pictures of my daughter, the … video they put on YouTube of my daughter, the type of person she was,’” Mason said. “Because this is real. I know as a kid, when you see a dramatization, it don’t mean as much as seeing the real thing. … We want the kids to know the dangers of texting and driving. … Kids need to see there’s consequences.”

He said in a strange way, all of his activism and efforts has helped him cope with the death of Rebecca.

“I never want to see or hear of another parent having to go through what I’ve had to go through,” Mason said, adding he dealt with his emotions immediately and still is because of the ongoing court proceedings. “With my wife and stuff, it’s taken her a little longer. The graduation thing, the prom thing, that stuff, it just kicks you right in the gut.”

Inside the courtroom last week, Howaniec and Peters argued that jury’s verdicts didn’t make sense since Lowe was found guilty of the manslaughter charges and leaving the scene of the accident, but found not guilty for the two lesser charges of operating under the influence. They also argued that the jury should have never heard Earl Lowe’s testimony, which was heard out of order after the state rested its case and Lowe was arrested and brought to court to testify against Kristina. They said that Earl Lowe’s testimony regarded suppressed statements that weren’t supposed to be admitted into the trial.

“We feel Earl Lowe’s testimony was very harmful to our defendant’s case,” Howaniec said. “Earl’s testimony was highly prejudicial, it was taken out of order. Attorney Beauschesne basically shoved it down our throats.”

The defense attorneys called Kristina Lowe’s mother, Melissa Stanley, to the stand. She contradicted her ex-husband’s testimony that their daughter heard her phone ring and looked down to see who it was just before the crash. Clifford said he agreed that Earl Lowe’s sequence of events couldn’t have happened the way he said they happened.

The state, represented by Assistant District Attorney (ADA) Joseph O’Connor and ADA Richard Beauchesne, said the defense’s issues should have been raised at trial. And O’Connor pointed out that the state sent the defense a letter from August 2012 stating that it would call Earl Lowe to testify and gave the substance of his testimony.

“If there were doubts about Earl Lowe’s testimony, there was ample time to address that at trial,” Beauchesne said.

Kristina Lowe remains free on $50,000 unsecured bail. There isn’t a time frame as to when Clifford is expected to issue a written ruling on the defense’s three motions. If they’re denied, Lowe will be sentenced for manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident. The sentencing date has not yet been set.

DAY IN COURT—(From left) Twenty-one-year-old Kristina Lowe of Oxford, sit with her defense attorneys, Chelsea Peters and James Howaniec, as they listen to the state's argument in Lowe's appeals case last week.

DAY IN COURT—(From left) Twenty-one-year-old Kristina Lowe of Oxford, sits with her defense attorneys, Chelsea Peters and James Howaniec, as they listen to the state’s argument in Lowe’s appeals case last week.