January 8

Windsor man pleads guilty in death of Augusta woman

Joshua Erskine says he was high on marijuana and prescription drugs when his Jeep plowed into Ruth Epperson nearly two years ago.

By Craig Crosby ccrosby@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — A Windsor man on Wednesday admitted he was under the influence of marijuana and narcotics when the Jeep he was driving struck and killed an Augusta woman walking on the sidewalk along North Belfast Avenue in 2012.

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GUILTY: Joshua A. Erskine entered a guilty plea Wednesday at Kennebec County Superior Court in Augusta to driving while under the influence of drugs when he struck Ruth Epperson, 81, in a sidewalk along North Belfast Avenue in Augusta in March 2012. Erskine is tentatively scheduled to be sentenced in February for the death of Epperson. Erskine is represented by attorney Pamela Ames, right.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Joshua A. Erskine, 25, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and aggravated criminal operating under the influence in the death of 81-year-old Ruth Epperson. Erskine admitted in Kennebec County Superior Court that he was under the influence of Percocet and marijuana on March 30, 2012, when his Jeep hit Epperson as she was out for her daily walk. Epperson died from her injuries five days later.

Under a plea agreement with the Kennebec County district attorney’s office, Erskine faces a maximum of 15 years in prison with all but eight years suspended and four years probation. The agreement allows Erskine and his attorney, Pamela Ames, to argue for less time. Sentencing is expected to take place next month. Erskine will remain free on $5,000 cash bail with a Maine Pre-Trial Services contract to more closely monitor his behavior.

Erskine, wearing a dress shirt and tie, made no comment during the hearing other than to answer standard questions posed by Justice Michaela Murphy to ensure he understood the ramifications of his plea and that he was pleading guilty of his own volition. Erskine acknowledged the facts of the case, as outlined during the hearing by Deputy District Attorney Fern LaRochelle, were true.

Members of Erskine’s family, as well as those of Epperson, attended the hearing. Erskine wouldn’t comment, but Epperson’s children, Ann Young of Fayette and Gerry Epperson of West Gardiner, said the guilty plea will help the family find closure.

“I’m glad to see him plead guilty,” Young said. “We didn’t want to go through a trial.”

Erskine was driving his 1999 Jeep Cherokee east on North Belfast Avenue around 3:30 p.m. when he lost control between James and Pinehurst streets. The Jeep crossed over the westbound lane, hit a parked car belonging to Kathleen Greene and then caromed into Epperson.

A Kennebec County Grand jury in December 2012 indicted Erskine on charges of manslaughter and aggravated operating under the influence. At his arraignment last January, an attorney representing him said the crash was caused by a flat tire as Erskine was driving home from work, taking the same route he took every day.

But LaRochelle said Wednesday that Erskine admitted to police the day of the crash that he had taken two 30 mg Percocet pills around noon that day. Erskine, who did not have a prescription for the pills, said he also had smoked two bowls of marijuana about an hour before the crash.

Maine State Police Trooper Joseph Chretien, a drug recognition expert, noted Erskine exhibited a number of signs of drug intoxication, including slurred speech, physical illness, bloodshot eyes and trouble staying awake.

“He concluded the defendant was under the influence of some kind of intoxicant,” LaRochelle said.

Blood tests revealed oyxcodone, which is a component of Percocet, and oxymorphone, LaRochelle said. The tests also revealed the marijuana component THC.

Police who responded to the crash found pills hidden inside a cigarette pack inside Erskine’s Jeep, LaRochelle said.

Augusta Police Officer Peter Cloutier was driving Erskine to the police department to undergo a breath test when then Kennebec County District Attorney Alan Kelley re-directed Cloutier to the hospital so Erskine could give a blood sample for testing. Cloutier notified Erskine of the destination change as they drove.

“Mr. Erskine told him they would probably find Percocet in his system,” LaRochelle said.

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