By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — At the time his wife called it a Christmas “miracle” that her husband wasn’t killed or paralyzed after he crashed his truck while on his way home. Now police allege the man was driving drunk on the afternoon of last Christmas Eve when he struck a utility pole on his street, then crashed into another vehicle, seriously injuring an elderly couple from New Hampshire.
William Copeland, 57, of 1178 North Broadway, pleaded not guilty Sept. 20 to two counts of drunken driving causing serious bodily injury, two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (motor vehicle) and two counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon on a person over 60.
Stephen O’Connell, a spokesman for Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, said Copeland was summonsed to Haverhill District Court earlier this year, but due to his injuries and because there is no elevator in the building, his case was transferred to Newburyport District Court. He was arraigned there April 17 on charges that included two counts of OUI causing serious bodily injury.
O’Connell said the case was subsequently reviewed by the District Attorney’s office and 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, Copeland was driving his 2005 Ford F-150 pick-up 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.
“The only reason I think I lived was I wasn’t wearing my seat belt, as the impact threw me out of the driver’s seat, into the passenger side and partly through the windshield,” Copeland said last week. “If I’d been wearing my seat belt I probably would have been crushed.”
Copeland said that on the afternoon of Dec. 24 he’d 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. “Police did a blood alcohol test at the hospital without my permission. I’d lost a lot of blood and wasn’t aware of what was happening.”
Copeland said it was several months after the accident that he received citations in the mail.
“I will fight this and I fully expect to be exonerated,” Copeland said.
Judge Garry Inge allowed Copeland to remain free on personal recognizance, with conditions that include no driving, no drinking or drug use, and that he be subject to random drug and alcohol screens. His next date in court is Nov. 26.
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.