Feb. 1-PARIS - A Mexico man charged in a 2020 crash in Rumford that killed a 68-year-old bicyclist was sentenced Wednesday to 18 months in prison.
Alger Aleck, 40, appeared in Oxford County Superior Court, where he pleaded guilty to a felony charge of aggravated criminal operating under the influence.
Other charges related to the crash, including manslaughter, were dismissed by prosecutors.
Assistant District Attorney Richard Beauchesne told Justice Thomas McKeon that he and the defense had agreed Aleck would admit to the single charge and face a sentence of eight years, but each side could argue on Wednesday how much of that term should be suspended.
Beauchesne said Aleck should be ordered to serve two-and-a-half years of that sentence behind bars; defense attorney Robert Hayes said his client should be put in jail - not prison - for no more than nine months.
Justice McKeon settled on a sentence in the middle after explaining how difficult the process is to honor the victim while recognizing the positive traits of the defendant.
After Aleck's release from prison, he will be on probation for three years and will lose his driver's license for 10 years. He was ordered to pay a $2,100 fine.
While he's on probation, he'll be barred from having alcohol or illegal drugs for which he can be searched and tested. He must continue drug counseling and treatment.
Aleck was given two weeks to report to authorities to begin serving his sentence.
Dorothy McKellick of Rumford was riding her bicycle in the breakdown lane of Route 2 in that town in late morning on May 21, 2020, when she was struck and killed by a Honda sedan driven by Aleck, Beauchesne said.
A day earlier, she had buried her husband, Joseph, who had died three months earlier when the ground was still frozen and the pandemic was starting to hit the United States, Beauchesne said.
"I'm sure that occasion brought flooding back to Dorothy all the feelings of love and loss that she had that she was now suffering after the death of her husband," Beauchesne said.
"It was the end of that chapter," he said. "And she was embarking on a new chapter. Yes, without him and with the help and the love of family and friends, I expect there was a sense of excitement along with anxiety as she embarked on this new chapter."
An avid bicyclist, she had likely been pedaling that morning to clear her head and start to focus on her new path in life, Beauchesne said.
She had parked her car at a restaurant on Route 2 and started to ride her bike on the "road of her new life, looking forward, with absolutely no idea that behind her, all over the road, was the stoned defendant, Alger Aleck. She's looking forward with absolutely no idea that her life was about to end, that next chapter of her life would never be completed, that her life would end in moments," Beauchesne said.
A Rumford police officer said Aleck showed signs of intoxication, including drowsiness and slurred speech, at the scene of the crash, Beauchesne said.
He took Aleck to the police station, where a breathalyzer test showed no alcohol in his system.
Using a search warrant, police drew Aleck's blood, which showed the presence of fentanyl and a medication for which Aleck had an expired prescription, Beauchesne said.
Three months earlier, Aleck had been driving with his then-5-year-old son in the car, when he slammed his car head-on into a utility pole in the middle of the day, Beauchesne said.
An officer at that scene reported Aleck appeared to be drowsy and nodding off, "which the court knows is a term ... indicating the physical condition of someone who's under the influence of opiates," Beauchesne said. A blood test from his hospital visit revealed the presence of benzodiazepines, or depressants, which affect the central nervous system, Beauchesne said.
"Alger Aleck was given a glimpse into the future of what could happen if he continued to drive under the influence of drugs, of opiates and benzodiazepines. On that date, he could have killed his 5-year-old child. And one would have thought that having that near-death experience, coming that close potentially, to the loss of his child, that would have been a teachable moment that that would have caused changing his lifestyle," Beauchesne said. "Yet, it did not."
Charges stemming from that earlier crash were dismissed Wednesday.
Earlier on the morning of May 21, 2020, Aleck had been sent home after he fell into a hole from which he had to be pulled out at the lumber mill where he worked, Beauchesne said.
"A questionable decision, surely, by the people at the mill," he said.
The mill manager had later told police that Aleck had appeared drowsy and nodding off that morning, Beauchesne said.
He said he could have called several witnesses, had the case gone to trial, who would have testified that they saw Aleck's car traveling in the breakdown lane and in the oncoming lane of traffic as he approached the stretch of road where McKellick was riding her bike that morning, forcing other cars to pull over.
One of those witnesses wrote in her statement that she saw the body of the bicyclist "flying through the air, presumably in the seconds before her head crashed into the windshield, leaving what the accident reconstructionist described as a basketball-sized hole in the windshield," Beauchesne said.
Another witness said she saw Aleck reach into his car and retrieve items which he placed over the embankment on the side of the road. Those items, later found by a drug-sniffing dog, included Aleck's driver's license and a "drug kit" containing fentanyl residue and a vial of benzodiazepine, Beauchesne said.
Friends and family of McKellick described her as an outdoor enthusiast who hiked and rode her bike often, who was generous, sweet and kind to others.
Her sister-in-law, Linda Sassi, said, "There's got to be some justice for Dorothy's life."
Hayes said his client was captive in the grips of addiction when the crash occurred, an addiction that changed the chemical makeup of his brain.
Aleck had hidden his "uncontrolled" addiction and internalized his problems until the crash.
When he was held at a jail in Wiscasset after his arrest, he learned about a substance use recovery program in Augusta.
He was accepted at that program in August 2020, where he continues to be treated for addiction, Hayes said.
The Aleck in the courtroom Wednesday was "significantly different" from the person on the day of the crash, "a better person" because of the work he has done about his addiction, Hayes said.
Aleck attends three meetings per week for substance abuse addiction and he "became profoundly religious," Hayes said.
Members and counselors from the recovery program filled the courtroom Wednesday to show support for Aleck, who has become a role model there, Hayes said.
Aleck apologized to the judge and to McKellick's family, saying. "I understand that it's not reasonable for me to hope for forgiveness when I know that I will never really forgive myself. I wish I had an excuse for you today. I wish I could lay this at someone else's feet. I could try and blame it on my mental health, on my childhood or maybe the loss of my parents (when he was young). But that stuff happens to everybody and they go their entire lives without hurting people as profoundly as I have."
He said he must bear full shame and guilt of his actions.
"I am the drug addict who took someone else's life and hurt countless others," he said. "I did this because I was selfish, I felt that life had hurt me and I was owed a bit of happiness to go with all that pain."
He said he knew he would never use drugs and alcohol again.
In imposing sentence, Justice McKeon said Aleck posed a "low" risk of reoffending, given his lengthy period of recovery.
"Mr. Aleck, you've done a wonderful job," McKeon said, wishing him luck.
To McKellick's friends and family, McKeon said he appreciated their participation in the sentencing process.
"There's no perfect solution here, but I hope you know you were heard," he said.