By Marjorie Nesin
---- — SALEM — Almost a year after her drunken driving caused a deadly collision on Essex Avenue, Rebecca A. Jacques pleaded guilty in court to charges that included motor vehicular homicide. A Superior Court judge, accepting her plea, sentenced her to four years in prison.
As a clerk magistrate read off the charges — assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, a vehicle, leading to death; drunken and negligent driving that caused death; drunken, reckless and negligent driving causing serious bodily injury to a rear seat passenger; assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, again a vehicle; causing injury to the rear seat passenger; and a subsequent offense of driving after a license suspension — Jacques, 53, pleaded guilty to each, her face reddening as she tucked her chin and exhaled short audible breaths.
Jacques, of Gloucester, lifted a cuffed hand to wipe tears as Judge Howard Whitehead acknowledged the consequence of her drunken driving, the death of Mary Lipman of Ipswich in the December 2012 crash.
Anytime a person drives drunk, “it’s Russian roulette,” Whitehead said. Though the judge said he could tell Jacques felt “remorseful,” he acknowledged her substance abuse had cut Lipman’s life short.
“She had apparently been using drugs and alcohol to self-medicate, with the unfortunate result of another woman dying,” Whitehead said.
Lipman, remembered as a best friend to all, had been seated in the front passenger’s side of a vehicle driven by state Trooper James Cowhig on the night of the crash. Friend Martha Frost was riding in the rear of the vehicle as they returned home from an evening in Gloucester.
As Cowhig’s car navigated a turn on Route 133, the truck Jacques had borrowed drifted fully into their lane. Cowhig swung his vehicle left, to avoid Jacques, but Jacques swerved right, striking the passengers’ side of Cowhig’s car and killing Lipman.
Blood tests calculated Jacques’ alcohol level at 0.22 on the night of the crash, nearly three times the legal limit of 0.08. Experts also found morphine and other narcotics in her blood, according to prosecutor Ashlee Logan. She was driving with a license that was suspended then, and had been many times over.
Logan had requested a sentence of seven to 10 years in prison. Defense attorney Cathryn Cox asked for 21/2 years in a house of correction paired with a long probationary period.
When Judge Whitehead settled on four years to four years and a day with 10 years’ probation, he landed somewhere in the middle.
The terms outline that Jacques may not use drugs or alcohol and must submit to random screens for both, while also seeking treatment for drug and alcohol issues and refraining from any driving.
Cox told the court her client underwent psychological tests related to the crash, which somewhat delayed the case. During those examinations and conversations, Cox learned that Jacques has struggled with substance abuse during times of hardship, and her sister had died a month prior to the crash.
Jacques could have served up to 62 years, had Judge Whitehead handed down a maximum sentence on each charge. But the judge said he recognized that Jacques, who dropped out of school at age 16 after completing up to the 11th grade, has struggled with substance abuse for much of her life and has begun strides toward improving since her lockup about a year ago.
She has earned a GED while jailed at MCI Framingham and has begun teaching exercise classes to other inmates at the facility. Cox said that Jacques plans to work as an advocate against drunken driving upon her release.
Rear-seat passenger Martha Frost attended the plea hearing, followed by the sentencing hearing, yesterday. At an earlier court date, she had explained the impact of the crash and the great loss of her companion to Judge Whitehead.
“I talked about that night. I talked about how it started just to kind of paint a picture of what kind of friend Mary was to me and the joy she, Jim and I had that night, and the laughter,” Frost said yesterday. “She’s like a sister to me. There were a lot of us who felt like Mary was our best friend. I don’t know what she did, but I actually just left the court with another friend of hers, and we were laughing just saying how was it that she was best friends with everybody.
“She was just a quiet person who was full of joy. She was not a loud person; she was just a gentle quiet person but, nonetheless, a fierce competitor when she was swimming,” Frost said.
Frost, who has recovered fully from physical injuries she sustained in the crash, said yesterday that although she shies away from attention surrounding the case, she felt the judge’s sentence was fair.
“How much more do you gain from being in prison five years, six years more? Either you’re going to work on yourself or you’re not,” Frost said. “You could just sit and wallow and feel sorry for yourself or you can use the time, and I get the sense that she’s trying. I feel like she’s a remorseful person and I appreciate that.”