A Walpole man was ordered held on $500,000 bail yesterday following allegations that he was drunk when he crashed his car in Hyde Park on Sunday, killing his 41-year-old passenger. If Jeffrey Mason, 42, posts bail, he will be under house arrest and subject to a GPS monitor.
The Boston Herald reported that the defendant was charged with motor vehicle homicide, operating under the influence of alcohol (OUI) (fourth offense), leaving the scene of death, and multiple motor vehicle violations. Police responded to the Enneking Parkway in Hyde Park at around 2:30 a.m. on Sunday. The car allegedly driven by the defendant had flipped and rolled over several times before the passenger side struck a tree, according to the police. The passenger was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident, and the defendant was found curled up on the ground in a nearby wooded area. The defendant told the police that the accident resulted from a blown-out tire. However, the responding officers noted that the defendant had slurred speech and glassy, bloodshot eyes. The result of a chemical test to determine the defendant’s blood alcohol content was not immediately available.
The defendant has admitted to operating under the influence of alcohol in three prior court cases, beginning in Chelsea in 1992, followed by West Roxbury in 1995, and most recently in Quincy in 2006. In addition to his history of drunk driving, the defendant has been charged with speeding eight times between 1987 and 1999, according to the Boston Globe. Multiple news outlets reported that the defendant repeatedly told the police he “was screwed” and asked about the punishment for a fourth-offense operating under the influence of alcohol conviction.
If the Commonwealth can prove the defendant was under the influence of alcohol and drove recklessly or negligently, and his reckless or negligent operation caused the accident that killed his passenger, he faces up to 15 years in state prison. If the prosecutor proves that the defendant was under the influence of alcohol, but cannot prove that he drove recklessly or negligently, the defendant could only be convicted of a misdemeanor version of the motor vehicle homicide statute, which carries up to two and a half years in the House of Correction. Therefore, if the defendant’s story of the accident being caused by a blown-out tire is true and the defendant was not driving in a reckless or negligent fashion, his potential prison exposure will be greatly reduced.
The maximum penalty in Massachusetts for a fourth-offense conviction for operating under the influence of alcohol is five years in state prison, with a one-year mandatory minimum sentence. The defendant can only be charged with a fourth-offense OUI because of changes made to the drunk driving laws by the Legislature in 2005. Before 2005, prior OUI convictions could be used against a defendant only if they occurred within the previous 10 years. Therefore, if the pre-2005 law was still in effect, the defendant could only be charged with a second-offense OUI (the Quincy conviction occurred within the past 10 years, but the West Roxbury and Chelsea convictions did not). When the Governor signed Melanie’s Law in 2005, the 10-year “look back” period was eliminated, and all prior offenses, regardless of how old they are, can be used against defendants. Consequently, the defendant here can be charged with a fourth offense, which is a felony that carries state prison time, rather than a second offense, which is a misdemeanor.