Driver free after motor vehicle homicide case overturned

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PITTSFIELD — A city man who served nearly two years for his role in a crash that killed a Pittsfield man will serve no more time in prison.

Douglas F. Guinan, 58, who has been free since his conviction was overturned in 2014, pleaded guilty in the case on Thursday and was sentenced to time already served and probation.

Guinan was convicted in January 2013 in the Oct. 23, 2010, head-on crash on South Street that killed 25-year-old Michael Ashline, and gravely injured a 26-year-old female passenger. He was sentenced to five to seven years in prison on motor vehicle homicide and driving under the influence charges.

But that conviction was overturned in 2014 by the state Appeals Court, which ruled that a state trooper who provided expert testimony about the mechanics of Guinan's 2011 Hyundai was not qualified to render opinions on that issue.

The trooper testified for the state to counter the defense theory that a computer defect, known to affect that model, may have caused Guinan to lose control of the car, cross the median and strike the oncoming vehicle.

At the time of the crash, Guinan had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.06, which is below the state's legal limit to drive, but he had also taken hydrocodone that day, and the combination of those two substances compounded Guinan's impairment, said Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Robert Kinzer.

An open can of Bud Light also was found in Guinan's car after the crash, Kinzer said.

Ashline's passenger suffered a head injury, a lacerated spleen and liver, broken ribs, crushed knees and her right femur was shattered.

Kinzer said the woman literally had to learn how to walk again.

He read an impact statement on the woman's behalf, in which she called Ashline the love of her life and a good man.

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"He did not deserve to die," she wrote. "I wish I could bargain for his life the way Guinan bargained for his freedom."

In the crash, Guinan suffered a medically diagnosed brain injury, which prevents him from recalling the collision itself.

He told Berkshire Superior Court Judge Daniel Ford that, despite his lack of recall, he has read all of the discovery evidence, including police reports and witness statements as well as transcripts from his trial, and accepted the state's presentation of its facts in the case.

Under those circumstances, Ford asked Guinan to enter a so-called Alford plea, in which Guinan admitted to the lack of recall, but did not dispute the state's case against him and entered guilty pleas to his charges.

He was sentenced to time already served — 645 days — on the count of vehicular homicide while under the influence of alcohol, and given a 2 1/2 year jail sentence on the count of driving under the influence to endanger causing serious bodily injury.

Six months of that sentence was to be served directly, but was considered time already served. The balance of that sentence is suspended while Guinan serves 18 months probation, with conditions including no illegal drugs or alcohol, random screenings and reporting to probation on a regular basis.

In arguing for the sentencing recommendation agreed upon between himself and defense attorney Leonard Cohen, Kinzer said it would have been difficult to bring the case back to trial considering the six years that have passed since the crash. And he noted the recommendation still fell within the state's sentencing guidelines.

The maximum penalty for the motor vehicle homicide charge is 15 years in prison and the negligent operation with serious injury charge carries a 10-year maximum penalty, Kinzer said.

Ford thanked the surviving victim for her statement and understood her desire for a maximum penalty to be imposed, but he said he couldn't exceed the agreed recommendation without offering Guinan a chance to withdraw the plea and proceed to trial.

And he acknowledged the state's position regarding the challenges associated with retrying the case more than six years after the crash.

Reach staff writer Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249 or @BobDunn413 on Twitter.


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