December 31, 2012

Windsor man charged with manslaughter in fatal March sidewalk crash in Augusta

Joshua A. Erskine, 24, was allegedly intoxicated when he struck Ruth Epperson, 81, of Augusta, with his Jeep on North Belfast Avenue March 30

By Craig Crosby ccrosby@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- A Windsor man who was allegedly under the influence of drugs has been charged with manslaughter in connection with a crash last March that killed a city woman as she walked along the sidewalk on North Belfast Avenue.

Joshua A. Erskine, 24, was arrested Friday on a charges of manslaughter and aggravated criminal operating under the influence and was arraigned via video conference Monday in Kennebec County Superior Court.

Ruth Epperson, 81, of Augusta, was walking on the sidewalk about 3:30 p.m. March 30 when Erskine's eastbound 1999 Jeep Cherokee went out of control and swerved across the westbound lane, where it hit a parked car belonging to Kathleen Greene. The Jeep caromed off Greene's car and plowed into Epperson.

She was flown to Maine Medical Center in Portland, where she remained until her death on April 5.

Epperson, who walked several miles each day, would have celebrated her 57th anniversary with husband Clyde Epperson today.

Erskine had consumed no alcohol but was under the influence of drugs at the time of the crash, Assistant District Attorney Alisa Ross said in court Monday. Erskine told crash investigators he had not been prescribed any medication, but he tested positive for marijuana and two narcotic prescription drugs.

Erskine does not have a permanent attorney, but Stephen Bourget, who represented him at Monday's hearing, said the crash was caused by a flat tire. He said Erskine was on his way from work at NRF Distributors in Augusta, taking the same road he took every day, when the crash occurred.

At Monday's hearing, Erskine was dressed in an orange jail uniform and did not speak.

Bourget said there are questions about whether Erskine had taken prescription medication, whether he was under the influence at the time of the crash, and what role the flat tire played in the crash.

"There are flaws in the state's case," Bourget said. "We maintain it was an accident."

Ross said an examination of the Jeep uncovered nothing that would have caused a flat tire.

Deputy Chief Jared Mills of the Augusta police said he had not seen a report of the Jeep examination, but generally such probes are done to make sure the crash could not have been caused by mechanical problems. Mills said the examination hinders defense claims of faulty equipment, such as bad brakes or a blown tire, to explain an accident.

Mills said police have continued to investigate the crash since it occurred nine months ago. He said many of the tests, particularly those looking for signs of drug use, take time to return.

"That's usually what we wait for," he said. "It's really a time-consuming, expensive case."

Erskine was indicted by a grand jury last month, but the indictment was sealed until his arrest Friday night, according to court records. An indictment is not a determination of guilt, but indicates there is enough evidence to proceed with formal charges and a trial.

Justice Donald Marden set Erskine's bail at $5,000 cash or $25,000 surety. Erskine's bail conditions prohibit him from driving or using or possessing drugs or alcohol, and he must submit to random testing for those substances.

Craig Crosby -- 621-5642
ccrosby@centralmaine.com

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