Last week, James Lee, 44, of Medway pleaded guilty to manslaughter and aggravated driving to endanger in a Monroe crash in September 2008 that killed Lee’s coworker William Russell, 28, of Medway.

The crash also severely injured Lee’s other passengers, William York and Chad Brackett, and Lee himself was also hurt. Speed was cited as a factor in the crash.

We find the sentence itself — 10 years for manslaughter and five years for aggravated driving to endanger with all but six years suspended — to be a fair one. Six years behind prison bars is not an insignificant amount of time, and hopefully this sentence will serve as a warning to others who choose to drive dangerously.

In talking with District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau last week, we learned of a disconcerting distinction between vehicular manslaughter cases involving a sober driver and cases involving an impaired driver.

In vehicular manslaughter cases where someone is killed and the driver at fault was impaired by alcohol or drugs, the courts have the authority to impose license suspensions as part of the criminal sentence. However, if someone is killed and the driver was sober, it is left to the discretion of the Maine Secretary of State’s Office to impose license penalties.

Rushlau said that in cases such as Lee’s, the court sends documentation of the conviction to the Secretary of State’s Office and it is then up to that office to suspend the license for a minimum of five years.

Lee did have his license suspended for six months as part of the aggravated driving to endanger conviction, but had it not been for that charge, the court would apparently not have been able to address Lee’s license.

While we have every reason to believe the motor vehicles division will review the case and suspend Lee’s license accordingly, we feel the courts should have that flexibility. Why is it necessary to go through that extra step if it is clear, as it was in this case, that the person behind the wheel is going to be a danger to themselves and others if they are allowed to drive again?

Lee’s record makes it clear that he is just such a danger. At the time of the deadly Monroe crash, his license had been reinstated only about a month and a half prior because he had been cited for driving too fast. Since 1987, 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 or more above the posted limit, according to court information.

We hope this tragic crash will help Lee learn the error of his driving ways. We also hope it motivates policy makers to cut what we see as an extra step out of the process, and allow the courts to take appropriate action with respect to a person’s privilege to drive.