A judge granted a change of venue for a Medway businessman who is charged with manslaughter in connection with a September 2008 vehicle crash in Monroe.

James Lee, 44, appeared before Justice Jeffrey Hjelm in Waldo County Superior Court Jan. 5 with his attorney, Jed Davis, of Augusta. Citing pretrial publicity, Davis requested that his client’s trial take place at a different location.

Lee is charged with manslaughter and aggravated driving to endanger stemming from an accident Sept. 22, 2008. On the evening, Lee was driving a 2004 crew cab pickup truck carrying three passengers, all construction workers from Lee’s family business, Emery Lee and Sons Construction of Medway, when he veered off Monroe Road. The pickup truck slammed into two trees and overturned. According to a Maine State Police accident reconstruction report, it was estimated that Lee was driving at least 74 mph in a 45 mph zone.

William Russell, 28, of Medway, was killed instantly as a result of the crash. Lee and the other men, 31-year-old Chad Brackett and 38-year-old William York, also both of Medway, were seriously injured.

During Tuesday’s hearing, District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau said he was not opposed to the request for a change of venue, but added that it was “unusual” that such a request would be made before some effort is made to select a jury.

Also during the hearing, Hjelm said possible alternative venues would include the superior courts in either Kennebec or Sagadahoc counties. In addition, Hjelm noted that a number of the people involved in the case reside in Lee’s home region of central Penobscot County.

Also on Tuesday, Davis sought permission to change Lee’s bail conditions to reflect that he is now serving as Lee’s attorney instead of Marvin H. Glazier of Bangor. Previous bail conditions allowed Lee to leave his home to go to Glazier’s office, and Hjelm allowed the conditions to be amended so that Lee could now meet with Davis.

According to statewide media reports, Lee has been under house arrest since November, after he was arrested on a bail violation when witnesses allegedly spotted him driving a road grader in East Millinocket. Lee’s bail conditions prohibit him from driving.

That development came about a month after Hjelm rejected guilty pleas Lee entered on both charges during a court appearance in Belfast Sept. 29. In the plea agreement, the state had proposed a 12-year sentence, with all but four years suspended, and four years of probation. Glazier, who was serving as Lee’s attorney at the time, was seeking a sentence of eight years, with all but two years suspended, and eight years’ probation.

Hjelm’s decision last fall to reject the plea deal, which sent the case to trial instead, stemmed in part from Lee’s driving record leading up to the fatal accident. During the plea hearing, Hjelm noted that in the past 22 years, Lee has had 36 motor vehicle violations, 25 of which were for speeding. He also noted Lee had four violations between 2007 and 2008 in which he was operating more than 20 mph above the speed limit. Hjelm also noted Lee’s license had been reinstated about a month and a half prior to the crash in Monroe.

In rejecting the plea agreement, Hjelm indicated he would recommend a 10-year sentence with all but six years suspended and four years’ probation if he was ultimately found guilty.

A trial date was not yet been set.