Medical condition a factor in fatal crash, says attorney

ELLSWORTH – The Virginia man charged with manslaughter after his vehicle struck and killed a former Jackson Lab scientist last week in the parking lot of a Bar Harbor restaurant was released from jail after posting $5,000 bail.

Justin Shell, 36, of Harrisonburg, Va. was charged with manslaughter and driving to endanger on Sept. 12, the same day his 2016 Dodge pickup swerved off Route 3 and into the parking lot of the Chart Room restaurant. The truck hit several parked vehicles and 76-year-old Connie Birkenmeier of Bar Harbor, who was walking in the lot. Birkenmeier was pronounced dead at the scene.

At his bail hearing the following day, Shell posted the $5,000 bail set by a judge. He has a bail condition that prohibits him from operating a motor vehicle in Maine without first being medically cleared to do so.

Shell also applied for a court-appointed attorney, a request that was turned down because he exceeds the income level for that program. According to court documents, Shell earns $19 per hour working at Packaging Corporation of America.

In court that day, Shell was represented by John Steed of Blue Hill, who happened to be the “attorney of the day” called to advise defendants without their own attorneys.

Steed said late last week that he disagreed with the decision from the District Attorney’s Office to charge Shell.

“I argued that there was no probable cause,” he said.

According to an affidavit filed by Assistant District Attorney Toff Toffolon to support the charges, Shell left Virginia on Sept. 9 and traveled to Fort Kent before arriving in Bar Harbor on Sept. 12.

Toffolon wrote that probable cause could be found “based on the number of miles driven by Mr. Shell in a short period of time, his choice to do that amount of driving when he was well aware from prior experience of the dangers of driving while tired and the fact that he recognized that he was likely too tired to be operating a motor vehicle.”

The affidavit also states that when police arrived at the restaurant, Shell appeared to be having a seizure. He was taken to Mount Desert Island Hospital in Bar Harbor where he was treated and released.

Toffolon said a medical event could have contributed to the accident but that event “could not have been significant since [Shell] was evaluated and released from the hospital within several hours of the accident.”

“From the evidence I was able to review, he was having a seizure,” Steed said. The evidence indicated Shell was “shaking, frothing at the mouth and unresponsive,” he said, citing witness statements.

The District Attorney’s Office has said police found no mechanical defects that might have caused Shell to lose control of the truck. A sample of Shell’s blood taken at the hospital has been sent for testing to see if drugs or alcohol might be factors in the accident. The results have not been released.

Court documents did not indicate if Shell has hired an attorney to represent him in the case.


Mark Good

Mark Good

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Mark Good

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