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State v. Lowe

Supreme Judicial Court of Maine

September 3, 2015

STATE OF MAINE
v.
KRISTINA I. LOWE

Argued June 17, 2015

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 158

On the briefs: James P. Howaniec, Esq., Lewiston, for appellant Kristina I. Lowe.

Andrew S. Robinson, District Attorney, and Joseph M. O'Connor, Asst. Dist. Atty., Office of the District Attorney, South Paris, for appellee State of Maine.

At oral argument: James P. Howaniec, Esq., for appellant Kristina I. Lowe.

Joseph M. O'Connor, Asst. Dist. Atty., for appellee State of Maine.

Panel: SAUFLEY, C.J., and ALEXANDER, MEAD, GORMAN, JABAR, and HJELM, JJ.

OPINION

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HJELM, J.

[¶1] Kristina I. Lowe appeals from a judgment of conviction for two counts of manslaughter (Class A), 17-A M.R.S. § 203(1)(A) (2014), and aggravated leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident (Class C), 29-A M.R.S. § 2252(5) (2014), entered by the trial court (Oxford County, Clifford, J. ) after a jury trial. Lowe contends that the court erred in the following ways, among others: denying her motion for a change of venue due to pre-trial publicity; denying her motion for a mistrial after her father, Earl Lowe, testified about statements that she made in the hospital following the accident; and allowing expert testimony regarding the presence of THC metabolites in a sample of her blood. Lowe also contends that the evidence was insufficient to support her convictions.[1] Because we find no judicial error and conclude that the evidence presented to the jury was sufficient to support Lowe's convictions, we affirm the judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

A. The Events of January 6-7, 2012

[¶2] " Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the State, the jury could have found the following facts beyond a reasonable doubt." State v. Brockelbank, 2011 ME 118, P 2, 33 A.3d 925. Shortly after midnight on January 7, 2012, Lowe was driving a car with three passengers on Route 219 in West Paris when the car went off the road and crashed, killing two of the passengers: sixteen-year-old Rebecca Mason and nineteen-year-old Logan Dam. Lowe, who was eighteen years old at the time, and the other passenger in the vehicle, twenty-two-year-old Jacob Skaff, survived the crash but suffered serious injuries.

[¶3] At the time of the crash, the group was returning to a party at a residence in West Paris. Attendees of the party observed that earlier in the night, Lowe appeared drunk and was drinking from a bottle of Jagermeister liquor. Lowe told one of the EMTs who treated her that she had consumed two shots of

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liquor at the party, and Lowe told a state trooper after the accident that she had consumed five shots of liquor. Lowe also repeatedly stated after the accident that she was not the driver because she had been drinking. During the party, Lowe drove a borrowed car in circles in the driveway of the residence, eventually hitting a tree stump, after which she came back into the residence laughing, prompting one of the residents to take away her keys. In addition, a witness saw Lowe " smoking a joint with another guy" in a car.

[¶4] Not long before midnight, Lowe left the party with Dam and Skaff to pick up Mason. After picking her up, they stopped at a convenience store to get gas and purchase alcohol, and they then proceeded on Route 219 toward the party with Lowe driving. The portion of Route 219 where the crash occurred was straight and the speed limit was fifty miles per hour, but expert testimony at trial established that Lowe's vehicle was traveling at as much as seventy-five miles per hour. A forensic meteorologist testified that, given the weather conditions that night, there could have been black ice on the road, and one EMT who responded to the accident stated that the road was " a little slippery." However, a state trooper who responded to the accident observed that, although there " was moisture on the roadway from a recent storm," the road had recently been treated with salt and sand and the travel portion of the roadway was clear. Other police officers and first responders did not notice any dangerous road conditions on Route 219 that night.

[¶5] At 12:11 a.m., a text message came into Lowe's cell phone. According to Lowe, she looked down at the phone to see whom the text message was from, Dam grabbed the wheel from the backseat, and Lowe then lost control of the car. The car flew through the air, hitting several trees before landing. Lowe and Skaff suffered serious injuries, including broken backs, but were able to climb out of the vehicle. Dam and Mason were killed by blunt force trauma, and Skaff later testified that he believed they were dead when he and Lowe left the vehicle. Neither he nor Lowe could find their phones, and Lowe lost a shoe.

[¶6] Without stopping at any houses closer to the scene of the crash, Lowe and Skaff walked roughly a mile back to the site of the party to report what had happened. When they arrived, they were covered in blood and appeared shaken and badly injured, and Lowe stated that she was " pretty sure people are dead." Lowe was helped into a bedroom and onto a bed, and someone at the party called 911, even though Lowe stated, " I am not going to jail" and that she did not want anyone to call the police. Skaff " took off running" after the police were called, and Lowe unsuccessfully tried to get someone to take her away before the police arrived.

[¶7] Emergency medical personnel arrived at the residence, and Lowe was taken to Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway. She was then transferred for further treatment to Maine Medical Center, where she was interviewed by Maine State Police Detective Lauren Edstrom. In that interview, Lowe initially denied that she had been driving, stating that Skaff was the driver and that she would not have been driving because she had been drinking. Later in the interview, she admitted that she had been driving and stated that Dam had reached from the backseat and grabbed the wheel. She also asked repeatedly about the condition of Dam and Mason, and was eventually told that they

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had not ...


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