BATH, Maine — A Hope woman charged with manslaughter in the January 2017 deaths of a Woolwich couple will serve six years in prison, a superior court justice ruled Tuesday.
Danielle Ward, 36, was driving a van that collided with another vehicle on Route 1 in Woolwich the night of Jan. 21, 2017, killing Robert and Carolyn Martin of Woolwich, and injuring the children in her vehicle, including her own.
Under terms of a plea agreement, Ward pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter, aggravated operating under the influence, felony driving to endanger and endangering the welfare of a child. In exchange, the Sagadahoc County District Attorney’s office agreed not to request a prison sentence of more than 10 years.
Assistant Attorney General Jeff Baroody, who prosecuted the case, told Justice Daniel Billings in Sagadahoc County Superior Court that the agreement included an open sentencing, with the only restriction that Ward not be sentenced to more than a 10-year active period of incarceration.
The maximum sentence for manslaughter is 30 years, but Baroody told Billings “the state believes this is a middling-level manslaughter” that warrants 14 to 15 years in prison.
Baroody said Ward’s “shocking” and “appalling” criminal history includes three prior convictions for operating under the influence of drugs within eight years — all with young children in the car and one that caused a head-on collision — and one conviction for driving to endanger. She was twice convicted of assault, including once when she spit in the face of a police officer.
On Jan. 21, 2017, Ward was the driver of one of two vehicles headed home to Warren after a birthday party in Portland when her Chevrolet Tahoe, carrying six children, crossed the centerline on Route 1 in Woolwich and collided with a Hyundai driven by 70-year-old Robert Martin.
Martin died at the scene of the crash. His wife, Carolyn Martin, 76, a passenger in the Hyundai, was flown by LifeFlight of Maine helicopter to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston where she was pronounced dead.
A southbound 2013 Ford Explorer driven by William King, 63, of Dudley, Massachusetts, struck Ward’s vehicle.
Ward and three of the six children who were riding with her were taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland with injuries that included spinal fractures and internal injuries. Neither King nor his passenger were injured.
In November 2018, Ward’s attorneys appealed unsuccessfully to Billings to exclude as evidence blood and alcohol samples taken from Ward that night. But the head of the Northern New England Poison Center told Billings that Ward had ingested a “dangerous” amount of opioids, sedatives and other drugs on the night of the crash.
Donna Papsun, a toxicologist of NMS Labs in Pennsylvania, testified by video that her lab found the drugs alprazolam (Xanax) and lorazepam (Ativan), both benzodiazepines; Oxycodone and Oxymorphone, both opioid painkillers; and THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in Ward’s blood.
Billings denied that motion.
On Tuesday, the courtroom was filled with family and friends of both the Martins and Ward, many of whom spoke on their behalf.
Members of the Martins’ family and others spoke to Billings of their loss and asked him to reject the plea agreement and impose the maximum sentence.
They described the couple as “wonderful, active, very loved people,” and said Ward’s actions were “terrible and irresponsible.”
Ward sat slumped in her chair between her two attorneys, blotting at her face with tissues.
Trishelle Ames, 14, who was a passenger in Ward’s vehicle the night of the crash and who suffered serious injuries, cried as she asked Billings to reject the proposed plea deal.
“Danielle didn’t think about the consequences of her actions,” Ames said. “She’s always gotten away with [OUI], and running over people’s property, nodding off [when driving]. Tell her that she can’t get off this time. She should have a fine of all these kids’ medical bills together … we need Danielle to realize all the damage that she did.”
But Ward’s attorney, Annie Stevens, asked Billings for a sentence of four years in prison. She said her client had struggled with substance abuse but since the crash has “taken very seriously” a commitment to rehabilitation, substance abuse counseling and parenting classes.
Ward’s substance disorder counselor and a therapist spoke to her commitment to treatment, and her best friend, who is acting as a foster parent for Ward’s children, said Ward attends Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous.
Ward’s oldest daughter, Skylah Ward, 14, told Billings, “I really want and need for my mom to be here.”
Ward then spoke on her own behalf, telling Billings, “Every single day that passes I have a little more guilt and shame.”
Billings sentenced Ward to 15 years in prison, with all but six years suspended, and four years probation. He said the “significant period of supervision will increase the likelihood of her success at rehabilitation and reduce the likelihood of reoffense.”
Her sentences on the remaining counts were concurrent. Billings declined a motion to stay Ward’s sentence and she was expected to be taken into custody from the courthouse.
Baroody said the “significant sentence,” while not as long as he had requested, “sends a message that abusing drugs, prescription or otherwise, can have significant consequences.”