WEST BATH, Maine — A Limestone man arrested nine times for operating under the influence pleaded guilty Wednesday afternoon to the ninth charge and was sentenced to nine years in prison, with all but seven years suspended.
Mark Burson, 56, was arrested the afternoon of Sunday, Aug. 7 after his pickup truck struck a Topsham police cruiser on the southbound Interstate 295 offramp in Topsham.
His blood alcohol content at the time was four times the legal limit.
He pleaded guilty on Wednesday to Class B felony aggravated criminal operating under the influence, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.
The officer, Lucas Shirland, suffered whiplash and neck pain, Topsham Police Chief Chris Lewis told The Forecaster. Shirland was treated and released from Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick.
Alex Willette, assistant district attorney for Sagadahoc County, told Justice Beth Dobson on Wednesday that Burson was arrested with a blood alcohol content of .35. Willette also told Dobson that Burson has served significant jail time for previous convictions. He said Dobson was convicted for OUI in 1979, 1980 and twice in 1990.
He was also convicted of OUI in 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2008, according to court records, which also show previous convictions for aggravated criminal mischief, burglary, violating condition of release, operating after habitual offender revocation and aggravated operating after habitual offender revocation.
Willette sought the maximum sentence, saying rehabilitation hasn’t worked for Burson.
“Any chance of rehabilitation up until this point, Mr. Burson hasn’t taken advantage of,” Willette said. “He is an extreme risk to the public safety, and if we let Mr. Burson off without a very stiff sentence, then we are sending a terrible message to the public.”
“There is no doubt that Mr. Burson’s problem is with substance abuse, but he crosses the line when he puts other people’s lives in danger by stepping behind the wheel and driving down 295,” he continued.
“It could have been worse,” Shirland told Dobson. “It’s not to say I’m glad I got rear-ended, but … we could have been responding to a fatal crash.”
Burson’s attorney, Andrew Wright, argued for a seven-year sentence with all but four years suspended and three years of probation.
“Mark has known he was an alcoholic since longer than the prosecutor has been alive,” Wright said. “His criminal history goes back that far, and all of it has to do with alcohol. … He’s battled demons of alcohol throughout his entire existence, since he was 14. It’s a really unfortunate situation that this seems to be a losing battle at this time.”
Standing in a faded Two Bridges Regional Jail uniform, Burson spoke to Dobson, apologizing for his actions and then apologizing directly to Shirland. He said the sentence Wright requested would allow him to be released from jail while he’s still young enough to be employable. He said he needs nine months to a year of rehabilitation.
Dobson said rehabilitation is critical to Burson, and said without “time hanging over his head, he might not be as motivated” to complete it.
She sentenced him to nine years in prison, all but seven years suspended, and three years of probation. His license will be suspended for 10 years.