Danger behind the wheel
Charlton man busted on 11th OUI charge
|Jason W. Wetteland (click for larger version)|
August 04, 2009UPDATED NEWS
BY RYAN GRANNAN-DOLL
NEWS STAFF WRITER
CHARLTON — A 39-year-old local man is facing his 11th charge of driving under the influence, adding another chapter to a long and dangerous record.
Jason W. Wetteland, who already has been convicted of driving under the influence six times, pleaded not guilty in Newburyport District Court Monday, Aug. 3, to operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol (fifth or subsequent offense), according to the Essex County District Attorney's Office.
Judge Allen Swan ordered him held without bail for a dangerousness hearing scheduled Aug. 18.
Police arrested Wetteland Saturday, Aug. 1 in Amesbury at the intersection of routes 495 and 110 after observing him driving erratically.
Wetteland also pleaded not guilty to driving after having a suspended license, subsequent offense, and possession of open container.
If convicted, he could land in jail for as many as five or as few as two years.
Neither Wetteland's attorney, H. Ernest Stone, nor Amesbury Police Lt. Mark Gagner could be reached for comment.
Wetteland appears to have no permanent address. Assistant Town Clerk Darlene Tully said he lives at 47 Old South Sturbridge Road, an apartment complex.
Neighbors directed a reporter to the unit in which it was believed Wetteland resided. No one answered the door there yesterday. A handful of residents at the complex said they did not know him.
Wetteland's longtime friend, Griffin Road resident Cheryl McKissick, said he had lived there in the past.
McKissick also said Wetteland had lived at 6 Gillespie Road, which houses a residence and Mondo's Bar. A woman at the bar who declined to give her name said Wetteland had lived in the upstairs of the building at some point, but had moved out six years ago.
"He doesn't have a permanent address," McKissick said.
"He kinds of bounces around from one house to the next."
Wetteland stayed with McKissick last week, she said, but she does not allow him to drink when he stays with her.
As a result of this latest charge, the state Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) has revoked Wetteland's license for life, according to Spokesman Ann Dufresne. She also said he has not had a valid license since September 2003.
Wetteland can appeal the revocation decision.
He has been found not guilty on the same charges before, and has two outstanding charges in Connecticut, according to Dufresne.
Despite his battle with alcohol, McKissick said he is a good person when he is not drinking. Wetteland used to work with McKissick at her truck maintenance business, she said.
"When he doesn't drink, he's the nicest guy in the world," she said.
McKissick said Wetteland has "fair weather friends" who enable his drinking problem.
Wetteland has tried to straighten out his life, according to McKissick. She and her husband Bruce would often drive him to a help program after he was released from jail, she said. Wetteland has had periods of sobriety, according to McKissick.
McKissick said her sympathy stems from her children being friends with Wetteland's two kids, whom she said live in Southbridge. According to McKissick, Wetteland does not have custody of them.
"He was an absent father," she said.
Southbridge resident Tammy Maloney, the mother of Wetteland's children, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Wetteland's extensive driving record, which spans 21 years and several states of incidents, could raise questions about the Massachusetts driving laws.
Despite hearing of Wetteland's long history, state Rep. Geraldo Alicea, D-Charlton, said the state's laws were the toughest on the books. Alicea said he would consider tightening the law, but only in consultation with law enforcement officials. More laws would likely not prevent repeat offenses. Still, Alicea said, the problem of habitual offenders will always be a danger.
"You are still going to have people running around thinking they are above the law. [Wetteland] is a good example of that," Alicea said.
In March 2006, Wetteland's license was suspended indefinitely for failing to pay child support, according to his driving history. The registry also suspended his license in April 2004 after he was caught possessing a class D substance. In August 2003, it was again suspended for 545 days for after Wetteland refused to take a breathalyzer test.
The month before, Charlton Patrolmen Mark Lapriore and Timothy Smith stopped Wetteland as he drove down Route 20 and charged him with driving under the influence of alcohol, according to court records and Police Chief James A. Pervier. Records indicated it was either his fourth or seventh offense. A jury found Wetteland not guilty on the driving offense, but he was convicted of possession of a class D substance. He was sentenced to six months in jail.
That was not the end of his long history. After a Nov. 1, 2001 incident, Wetteland was sentenced to two and a half years in prison and supervised probation after he was found guilty of driving under the influence, according to Dudley District Court Records. Wetteland, although sentenced to 30 months, served only 18 and was released in January 2003.
In this incident, Pervier said Wetteland was driving a vehicle eastbound on Route 20 when he careened into another car traveling westbound that had swerved to avoid an injured deer. The passenger of the other vehicle, who was the mother of the driver, died, according to Pervier. He said a death related charge was never filed against Wetteland because he, and the State Police who investigated the crash, believed the accident would have happened even if Wetteland was sober at the time.
"I don't believe he could have avoided [the crash]," Pervier said. "To charge the person with homicide, it was not there."
Drivers convicted of their first offense face up to a $5,000 fine, their license being suspended and a two and half year prison term. Second offenders face a two-year license suspension and up to two and a half years in jail, and up to a $10,000 fine. Third time offenders face stiffer penalties, loss of license for eight years, up to $15,000 fine and up to five years in jail. Drivers who are convicted a third time face up to five years in jail, and loss of their license for 10 years, as well as a $25,000 fine. Five- time offenders, face a lifetime license suspension, up to five years in jail, and up to a $50,000 fine.
Pervier said people like Wetteland should be serving "significant periods of time [in jail]," to prevent them from repeated offenses.
Noting the lawmakers have tightened the laws over the years, Dufresene said the Registry did everything it could to prevent Wetteland's behavior.
"We have done everything we possibly can to keep him off the roads, that we are statutorily allowed to do," she said. "There is a population of drivers that ignore all of the traffic [regulations]. You will see that on his record."
The Registry took a preventive step in 2001 when it ran Wetteland's name through the National Driver Registry, which is typically done when somebody tries to renew their license. The search turned up outstanding issues in Connecticut and Maine, according to Dufresne. The history indicates a driving under the influence incident in Connecticut and a failure to appear in court.
"It turned up a number of these things," Dufresne said.
Separate from the national registry, Wetteland's driving record is also peppered with incidents as far back as 1988, including some in Maine, Connecticut, East Brookfield, West Brookfield, Spencer, Sturbridge and Southbridge. The RMV revoked his license after a drunk driving incident in Spencer in 1991, according to the registry history. The history spans many pages, includes several refusals to take a breathalyzer test, and a failure to have a liability insurance policy. His first suspension was in June 1988 for refusing to take a breathalyzer.
Ryan Grannan-Doll can be reached by phone at (508) 909-4050, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Editor's Note: This story will appear in the Friday, Aug. 7 Southbridge Evening News
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