Teen placed under house arrest

By Lisa Williams Ackley

Staff Writer

A teenage girl who has been charged in the death of 19-year-old Thomas Colby McLendon of Oxford in a single-vehicle car accident on Route 35 in Harrison last October, was released into her parents’ custody under house arrest, late Monday morning.

Judge Paul Eggert explained his purpose for not remanding Morgan L. Kesseli, 18, of Paris, to the Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland, where she has been incarcerated since admitting to a violation of bail conditions at a juvenile court proceeding earlier this month in Portland. Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson said at the Sept. 8 hearing that Kesseli was being sent to the LCYDC for substance abuse treatment.

Judge Eggert said, in his ruling Sept. 26 in Ninth District Court in Bridgton, that he would rather release Kesseli to her parents’ custody than “to have her keep sitting there in the Long Creek Youth Development Center doing, essentially, nothing…I would much prefer to have her actively working on her mental health and substance abuse issues.”

Kesseli, who faces felony charges of manslaughter, elevated aggravated assault, aggravated assault, reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon and aggravated driving to endanger, entered no plea at her arraignment in Ninth District Court in Bridgton on Aug. 22.

Kesseli was a 17-year-old juvenile when she allegedly lost control of the 2003 Chevrolet Trailblazer she was driving on a curve at 8:15 p.m. on Oct. 21, 2010 and it crossed the center line and crashed into a stand of trees. McLendon, known to his family and friends as “Colby,” had been riding in the backseat and was pronounced dead at the accident scene. Jacob R. Hill, 20, of Waterford, was critically injured and airlifted to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. Both Kesseli and a third passenger, Timothy S. Coffin, of Waterford, were transported to Bridgton Hospital with serious, but non-life-threatening injuries. The investigation into the fatal crash by the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office determined “that excessive speed was the primary causation factor,” according to Captain Don Goulet.

At Monday morning’s hearing, Assistant District Attorney Michelle McCulloch told the court that it was anticipated Kesseli would be admitted within four to six weeks to an inpatient treatment program at Crossroads for Women in Windham, a residential rehabilitation center for those with substance abuse issues. She said Kesseli would be participating, as an outpatient, in the Blue Willow Counseling Program, until she can be admitted to the facility in Windham.

McCulloch said Kesseli would be wearing a monitoring device known as a “robo cuff,” while under house arrest at her mother Lisa Palmer’s and step-father Eric Palmer’s home where she had resided prior to the prior bail violation admission. The ADA also asked the court to impose the following conditions upon Kesseli — that there be no use of alcohol or illegal drugs and no operation or use of a motor vehicle.

Previous conditions of Kesseli’s bail were that she only drive a motor vehicle twice a week to classes at Central Maine Community College in Auburn, she must reside with her parents, and have no contact with Timothy Coffin.

“The State does have great concerns,” McCulloch stated on Monday, “that since (the hearing in Portland) on September 8, she has used marijuana, cocaine and Oxycodone and attended the Barrel Fest with Jacob Hill (where alcohol was served). Kesseli was also involved “in a minor (motor vehicle) accident September 6 on her way to school,” Assistant District Attorney McCulloch told the judge.

“It is still the State’s position that, in light of the seriousness of the offense and in light of the substances she was using,” the state has reservations about Kesseli returning to her parents’ home “where she was not adhering to her bail conditions before.”

The ADA submitted a statement at the Sept. 26 hearing from accident victim Timothy Coffin that was not read aloud in the courtroom. Colby McLendon’s parents, James and Pamela, were in the courtroom along with other relatives, Monday morning. They have filed a civil wrongful death lawsuit against both Kesseli and her mother, who owned the 2003 Chevrolet Trailblazer Kesseli was driving when their son was killed.

Colby McLendon’s father, James, told the court, “My position is there ought to be consequences for her. It (the incarceration of Kesseli at LCYDC) should stay as is.”

“My son doesn’t have a chance to get any second chances, due to this accident,” James McLendon said.

Defense attorney J.P. DeGrinney told the court that speed had been determined to be the main cause of the fatal crash, and not his client’s substance abuse.

“We’re dealing with two issues — moving forward and healing,” said Attorney DeGrinney, “and getting her the help she needs.” He said Kesseli would be subject to random testing and search of her person or residence, and random calls to her home to make sure she is complying with the house arrest condition, as well as undertaking “community service and intensive outpatient treatment.”

Apparently referring to James McLendon’s statement to the court, DeGrinney said, “We are not at a point in the process where we’re talking about punishment, and we are not at a point in the process where we are talking about consequences.”

Attorney DeGrinney said Lisa Palmer had told him she has sold her daughter’s car and that “transportation is in place through RTP (Regional Transportation Program).”

DeGrinney said again, that it is hoped the focus can be on Kesseli getting treatment and “everyone can work on some healing here.”

At Monday morning’s hearing, Judge Eggert said, “We are here today to decide whether Morgan Kesseli should be retained at the Long Creek Youth Development Center before (her admission to) Crossroads (for Women) or beyond that…”

“We’re not here to address sentencing or a penalty for actions that led to the criminal complaint (against Kesseli),” the judge said. Judge Eggert said further that, as to James McLendon’s statement about consequences, the court was going to address “the consequences of conditions of release.”

The judge said the Sept. 6 motor vehicle accident Kesseli was involved in was a minor one showing “really that she’s a bad driver.”

“We are going to address that by taking her car away and her keys away,” said Judge Eggert of Kesseli’s case. He said the conditions of release would also include “having her under house arrest with a substance abuse program in place — and if she slips at all, she’s, in fact, busted,” the judge stated.

“She is to have no contact with Jacob Hill, in addition to the other conditions discussed earlier,” Judge Eggert ordered, “as well as to undergo the counseling that has been arranged.”

Eggert further ordered that Kesseli begin participating in the intake process at Blue Willow Counseling Center as of Sept. 27.

“That (treatment program) will require her attention, Monday through Friday, and she’s required to do that and that’s a bridge program, until she can be admitted to Crossroads,” Judge Eggert said. “And, hopefully, they can help her address both her substance abuse and mental health issues. He said the house arrest Kesseli is ordered to live under “is the responsibility of the family.”

Turning to the Palmers, Judge Eggert told them, “You have an obligation to report that, if she sneaks out.”

Directly addressing Morgan Kesseli, Judge Eggert told her, “You need to rely very heavily on the counselors, the substance abuse program and your mother and father.”

The next hearing regarding Kesseli’s bail conditions and the status of her case was set for January 23, 2012 at 9 a.m. in Ninth District Court in Bridgton.

“The juvenile may be relased to the custody of her parents,” Judge Eggert ordered.

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