PLYMOUTH – On Monday, a Halifax man, Paul A. Ledwell, Jr., 30, changed his plea in Plymouth Superior Court from “Not Guilty” to “Guilty” on two charges, one count of driving under the influence of a Class A substance (Carfentanil) while causing serious bodily injury and one count of possession of a Class B substance (marijuana).
The charges stem from a head-on collision that occurred between a Kingston woman, Elizabeth Runnals, and Ledwell on Route 80 in front of the Sacred Heart Elementary School on June 16, 2017.
Ledwell will serve 18 months of a two-and-a-half year sentence in the Plymouth County House of Correction followed by four years of probation for the crime. On the possession of a Class B substance charge, marijuana, he will serve one year of probation concurrently.
The clean-cut young man did not look as if he knew he was about to be taken into custody; he could have easily been mistaken for a lawyer in his sharp suit in the lobby before the hearing. Runnals was present as well, in a leg-brace and a wheelchair.
Judge Gregg Pasquale presided over the hearing, which was prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Alexander Zane. Kevin Reddington, a Brockton-based defense attorney, represented Ledwell.
Family members and friends of both the defendant and the victim were present during the emotional proceedings.
Pasquale spent some time ascertaining whether Ledwell understood the implications of what he was doing. A construction worker and the father of several children, was choked-up and inaudible at the beginning of the allocution, as he was asked a series of questions and given warnings to make sure he knew he was giving up his right to a trial by judge or jury and that he was giving up rights to appeals.
Ledwell flushed red, sometimes rushing the judge by saying, “Yes,” or “Yes, your honor,” quite quickly throughout the questioning by the judge.
When asked what he was doing there in court, he paused for a long time and said simply, “I am taking a plea.”
Next, ADA Zane, recounted in graphic detail the facts of the crime. Between his account and police records in court files, a picture of the treacherous pursuit of a drugged man by a civilian spanning half-a-dozen miles across two towns followed by a horrific head-on crash, along with the stories of heroic first responders emerged.
One report stated that at 4:56 p.m. on July 16, 2017, Colin Chromy, a Kingston man, called 911, indicating he was behind a black Ford Explorer and that it was all over the road on Bishop’s Highway (Rt. 80). Chromy, a Kingston carpenter, said in a later interview that he had followed the vehicle from Old Farm Lane in Plympton and saw it almost hit several other vehicles in a chase that spanned two towns with speeds reaching up to 90 mph.
While on the phone with 911, Chromy saw the Ford Explorer, later identified as being driven by Ledwell, cross the double yellow line and collide head-on with a red Chrysler PT Cruiser, operated by Runnals.
“Both vehicles has [sic] heavy front end damage and it was clear that the Ford Explorer was in the wrong lane of travel,” said the report. “The operator of the vehicle that was struck by the Explorer was identified as an Elizabeth Runnals. Officer Fuller jumped into the back seat and kept her head and neck straight so as not to prevent [sic] further damage to the area. Elizabeth was clearly pinned in the vehicle and was in an extreme amount of pain. She was moaning and yelling out in pain. Kingston Fire arrived on scene and had to use the jaws of life to mechanically remove Elizabeth from the vehicle.”
Runnals experienced injuries to her ribs, knee, ankle, toes, hip and she said doctors believe she will have permanent neurological damage. She uses a wheelchair for mobility most of the time.
Ledwell was also injured in the accident, though to a lesser extent, receiving injuries to his face and arms, say police reports. He was given Narcan after nodding out while firefighters were treating him and responded to it– angrily as often is the case when people are given Narcan and quickly come down from a high.
Zane emphasized that Narcan only has an effect on people who have taken opioids, and two bags of white powder were found in his vehicle, along with marijuana. Although the state lab had difficulty identifying the white powder found at first, it was eventually identified as Carfentanil, a veterinary tranquilizer commonly known to put elephants to sleep, noted Zane.
That he was driving “is honestly terrifying,” Zane said.
Zane stated that the accident had an emotional and financial impact on the family, who are self-employed, and that Ledwell showed a lack of remorse. He mentioned that Ledwell had several OUI’s and drug crimes, many of which he said had dispositions of “Not Guilty.”
At one point, Ledwell’s attorney, Reddington, became annoyed with Zane, and leapt up, asking to be heard during, “this filibuster.”
“This is piling on,” he said. He opposed Chromy providing a victim impact statement. “The 911-guy doesn’t have standing.”
The victim, Runnals, was allowed to give a victim impact statement, as was her husband Thomas, and two of her children, Sonya and Holly. Although the civilian who followed Ledwell was not allowed to give a statement, “under the statute,” according to Pasquale, the judge asked Chromy to rise in court and told him that he was a hero.
To Runnals, the judge said, “I understand this has been a difficult case for all involved…I hear you have been through a horrendous ordeal.”
Runnals then spoke emotionally of what she had been through during and after the accident.
“I’ve always been a healthy person,” she said, through tears. “I was just driving down the road, and my life flashed before my eyes.” She described multiple, painful surgeries and the emotional pain Ledwell had caused her. She said she hopes to walk again.
As for drugs, she said, “Just stay home if you want to do them.”
Her daughter Sonya told the court about her view of free will. “My mother wasn’t allowed free will that day.”
“She was less than a mile from home. She had nowhere to go,” she added.
Her daughter Holly described feeling guilty she lives farther away and said she keeps in touch with her mother by phone daily. She said her mother won’t tell her what she’s going though so as not to put a damper on her day.
“At the end of this process, it isn’t over for us,” she said.
Her husband, Thomas, spoke slowly and deliberately, almost stuttering at first. He said that he and his wife had been married 40 years and had worked every day together for 30 of them. “It bothers her tremendously she can’t help me,” he said, saying at one point he had lost 30 pounds doing all the extra work she used to do. “She’s an angel.”
Reddington addressed the court, noting that the victims’ impact statements were, “classy…not one angry word.”
He said that Ledwell is a decent man who has an addiction, and while not an excuse for his behavior, he has been doing incredibly well recently, despite a relapse six days after the accident, and was horrified to read reports of the accident.
He asked if his client could address the court, and Ledwell offered an apology to Runnals, although he never turned in her direction. “I’m very, very, very, very sorry…I’m not a monster,” he said.
He was then sentenced by Pasquale, who spent some time to explain his rationale, to three times the minimum sentence of six months in jail for the more serious charge and concurrent probation for the second. Although he said the conduct was abhorrent, he believed that Ledwell appeared to be truly remorseful.
Ledwell was then handcuffed and taken away by court officers to be transported to the House of Correction.
In the hallway outside the courtroom, Runnals and her husband said that they believed that justice had been served. Chromy added that he thought that Ledwell was sorry.