Man pleads not guilty in fatal Sheffield crash, must wear alcohol monitoring device

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GREAT BARRINGTON — A Southfield man who was allegedly drunk last month when he struck and killed a motorcyclist in Sheffield has been ordered to wear a continuous alcohol monitoring device.

Kristopher Laine, 39, appeared for the first time in Southern Berkshire District Court for an emotionally charged arraignment on Monday in connection with the crash that killed John Howard, 70, of Bethlehem, Conn.

Wearing a blue suit and brown oxfords, a clean-cut Laine was quiet and appeared calm, while Howard's wife wept audibly, surrounded by teary-eyed family and friends.

Despite some resistance from Laine's attorney, Judge William Rota insisted that Laine, a former Marine, wear a Systems Continuous Alcohol Monitoring Device (SCRAM), despite his imminent enrollment in an inpatient clinic for post-traumatic stress disorder at the Northampton Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He will be fitted for the device on Wednesday.

While Assistant District Attorney Kyle Christensen hadn't asked that Laine be monitored, he agreed after Rota appeared determined.

"If we're gonna have `no alcohol,' are we proposing any enforcement, or are we just going to take our chances?" Rota asked Christensen and Laine's attorney, Lori Levinson.

"Your honor, when you put it that way, how about a SCRAM," said Christensen, who also noted that Laine's record shows one entry for public intoxication in California.

Levinson said a SCRAM device was unnecessary — that Laine was released Friday from a 25-day inpatient program at a Connecticut VA hospital, and is waiting for the Northampton session to begin.

"This is a man who is incredibly committed to his sobriety," she said of her client.

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Sheffield police say Laine had partially consumed a 24-pack of beer when his truck crossed the center line on Canaan Road at around 2:20 p.m. May 22 and struck Howard head-on, throwing him from his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. Howard died of his injuries at the scene.

A Breathalyzer test at the Sheffield police station indicated Laine's blood alcohol content to be 0.13, according to the accident report.

Upon hearing these details, Howard's wife, Kathleen Howard, left the courtroom in distress.

Laine was not present at his first two arraignment dates. He had immediately entered an inpatient program for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, which Levinson and Laine's wife said was related to three tours of duty in Iraq. The accident report also says that Jessica Laine told police that she was concerned about her husband's PTSD-related drinking problem.

State law no longer allows leniency for veterans who face criminal charges for operating under the influence. An attorney who frequently represents veterans told The Eagle earlier this month that Laine would not be eligible for a program in which veterans can receive treatment in lieu of prosecution under the Valor Act.

Laine pleaded not guilty to motor vehicle homicide/operating under the influence-liquor, marked-lanes violation and unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle.

Rota released him on $1,000 bail, the initial amount set when he was first arrested, and set a pretrial hearing for Aug. 5. He also prohibited him from driving in any state. Christensen said the case would likely be moved to Berkshire County Superior Court.

After the hearing, Kathleen Howard cried as she read a statement to The Eagle about her husband, who served in the Army National Guard, and who was retired from his longtime career with the Connecticut Department of Developmental Services.

"The Howard family lost a wonderful father, a loving husband, uncle, brother, and a friend to so many, and his loss will be felt by the entire community," she said.

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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