A Medway businessman who was the driver in a Monroe crash that killed his coworker will serve six years in prison.

James Lee, 44, pleaded guilty Feb. 2 in Kennebec County Superior Court to manslaughter and aggravated driving to endanger.

He was charged following an accident in September 2008. 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 truck slammed into two trees and overturned. It was estimated that Lee was driving at least 74 mph in a 45 mph zone, according to a crash reconstruction report.

William Russell, 28, of Medway, was killed instantly and Lee, along with his other passengers, Chad Brackett and William York, also from Medway, were seriously injured.

Lee changed his plea to guilty a month after he was granted a change of venue from Waldo County due to pretrial publicity in the case.

He was sentenced Feb. 2 to serve 10 years for manslaughter and five years for driving to endanger. Of those sentences, all but six years was suspended, and he will be required to serve four years’ probation. He was also fined $575 on the driving to endanger conviction and had his license suspended for six months.

In September 2009, Justice Jeffery Hjelm rejected guilty pleas Lee had entered on both charges during a court appearance in Belfast, which sent the case to a trial instead. The trial was scheduled to be held this month in Augusta.

Hjelm’s decision to reject the plea in September stemmed in part from Lee’s driving record leading up to the fatal crash and also Hjelm did not think the proposed sentence was long enough. At that time, the state had proposed a 12-year sentence with all but four years suspended and four years’ probation, while Lee’s attorney had recommended a sentence of eight years with all but two years suspended and eight years’ probation.

Hjelm indicated at that time he would recommend a 10-year sentence with all but six years suspended.

In the past 22 years, Lee has had 36 motor vehicle violations, 25 of which were for speeding. In 2007 and 2008, Lee had four violations in which he was speeding 20 mph above the posted limit. Lee’s license had been reinstated about a month and a half prior to the Monroe crash.

District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau said Feb. 3 that the court has no authority to suspend licenses in manslaughter cases where alcohol was not a contributing factor in the crash.

However, he said, the court is required to send documentation of the conviction to the Secretary of State’s Office and it is ultimately up to that office to suspend an individual’s license for a minimum of five years.

The Republican Journal Reporter Kim Lincoln can be reached at klincoln@villagesoup.com or by calling 338-3333.