EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 22, 2013

Man charged in crash fails to appear in court

By Mike LaBella

---- — HAVERHILL — A Haverhill man who was involved in a head-on crash in December 2011 seriously injuring himself and an elderly couple failed to appear at a trial assignment hearing on Wednesday in Salem Superior Court.

The lawyer for William Copeland, 57, said Copeland broke his arm and was unable to appear. Judge John Lu ordered Copeland to report to probation and scheduled a hearing April 3 at which a trial date is expected be set.

Copeland, of 1178 North Broadway, was charged with two counts of drunken driving causing serious bodily injury, two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (motor vehicle), negligent operation and two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (motor vehicle) on a person over 60.

Police said Copeland crashed head on into an elderly couple on the afternoon of Christmas Eve 2011. He was subsequently charged with drunken driving.

Copeland claimed that the elderly couple hit his truck, although police say he was in their lane going the wrong way.

Copeland was summonsed to Haverhill District Court early last year to answer to the charges, but due to his injuries from the accident and because there is no elevator in the building, his case was transferred to Newburyport District Court, where at his arraignment he was released on personal recognizance, with conditions that included no driving, no drinking or drug use, and that he be subject to random drug and alcohol screens.

Copeland was subsequently indicted on the charges Aug. 20 and was arraigned in Salem Superior Court Sept. 20.

Stephen O’Connell, a spokesman for Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, said a determination was made to indict Copeland in superior court due to the seriousness of the victims’ injuries.

According to police, on the afternoon of Dec. 24, 2011, Copeland was driving his 2005 Ford F-150 pickup truck north on his street when he struck a utility pole near 1020 North Broadway. Police said his vehicle crossed the center line and collided with a Ford Explorer. Police said the occupants of the Explorer — James Foley, 63, and Carol Foley, 65, both of Sandown, N.H. — received serious, but non-life-threatening injuries.

Several weeks after the accident, Copeland’s wife, Eva Valentine, said “two miracles” occurred when her husband crashed his truck.

She said he wasn’t wearing his seat belt and that he was lucky to have survived. Firefighters had to use an extraction tool to remove Copeland from the truck. She also said it was a miracle that he didn’t end up a quadriplegic. Copeland’s injuries included a fractured C5, C6 and C7 vertebrae, a shattered left knee, femur and tibia, a broken right leg femur, three fractured ribs, lacerated forehead and a bruised liver, Valentine said.

Police said both vehicles received front-end damage in the crash, which was reported at 2:05 p.m., and that a state police accident reconstruction team assisted in the investigation. No charges were filed at that time, according to police.

Copeland said that on the afternoon of Dec. 24 he had just delivered a box of Christmas lights to a friend on North Broadway and was on his way back to his home when the crash happened. He said he was not driving drunk as police allege he was.

“It is my contention that it wasn’t even me that hit them, and that they hit me,” Copeland said about the Foleys.

Copeland said it was several months after the accident that he received citations in the mail.

Court officials said that if found guilty of OUI causing serious bodily injury, Copeland faces up to 10 years in state prison, with minimum mandatory House of Correction sentence of 6 months. For a charge of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon on a person over 60, he faces up to 10 years in state prison. For assault and battery with a dangerous weapon causing serious bodily injury, he faces up to 15 years in state prison.