A weekend crash at a Westbrook housing complex highlights the growing problem of driving under the influence in Maine and the potential consequences.
In the early hours of Friday morning, a driver allegedly slammed through a stop sign and then into the Westbrook Inn in Westbrook, causing extensive damage. Around 20 people in the housing complex had to be evacuated in the aftermath, according to the property manager, who identified himself as Jay but declined to provide his last name.
“Destroyed the whole front porch,” Jay said outside the property on Monday. “It was a great big porch.”
The driver, 28-year-old Claire Boynton of Sanford, was charged with OUI and unlawful possession of scheduled drugs. She was previously arrested for OUI after she went off the road in Wells in November 2018. While authorities said Boynton was injured, no one in the building was hurt.
The incident highlights a growing problem in Maine.
OUI crashes in Maine shot up 10 percent from 2019 to 2021, with nearly 1,400 incidents last year, according to Maine Department of Transportation data.
In fact, Maine ranks as the worst state for OUIs in the Northeast and among the worst in the country according to a recent report by driver’s education site Zutobi that utilized federal data. It also has the highest rate of road fatalities in the Northeast and the second-highest arrest rate both relating to OUIs.
Crashes in the Portland metro area increased even more: a 12 percent uptick from 2019 to 2021. Police in Portland sounded the alarm on the uptick last April, with then-chief Frank Clark linking it to the social effects of the pandemic “as COVID restrictions ease and people seek to return to some sense of normalcy.”
Data on OUI arrests unrelated to crashes were not immediately available
While most OUI crashes in Maine do not injure anyone, they can have catastrophic consequences for both the driver and everything in their way. Maine OUI crashes in 2021 caused 136 suspected serious injuries and 23 deaths, according to Maine Department of Transportation data.
Though they are most commonly associated with alcohol, Maine’s OUIs have involved several substances, including opioids. Maine saw a record number of drug deaths in 2021, a problem experts have said has been worsened by the widespread use of the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl and the isolating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Abuse of alcohol, which is more widely used and available than any other substance in Maine and the U.S., also remains a significant problem. Maine had the highest rate of alcoholic liver disease deaths in the Northeast – including New England – in 2020, according to U.S. Centers for Disease and Control data. It also had the 11th-highest rate of such deaths in the country.
Jay hopes that Boynton’s insurance covers the damage and does not expect it will impact tenants in the long-term. There were already signs of repair work on Monday afternoon, with Westbrook Inn’s management receiving praise on social media for its quick response.