THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Man given 3 to 4 years for fatal accident

Annie Gauthier, whose niece Julie was killed in a car crash, testified against the driver in March in Essex Superior Court. Annie Gauthier, whose niece Julie was killed in a car crash, testified against the driver in March in Essex Superior Court. (Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe/File)
By Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / December 18, 2010

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SALEM — Despite a prosecutors’ request that Christopher J. Maxson spend up to seven years in prison for a drunken driving crash that killed his girlfriend and tearful pleas from the girlfriend’s family that he be severely punished, a judge sentenced him yesterday to three to four years in prison.

“I realize that this is significantly less than what the family wants and more than the defendant’s family asked for,’’ Essex Superior Court Judge David Lowy said from the bench. “It doesn’t reflect the wonderful and beautiful life that Julia [Gauthier] lived and would have continued to live. It seems too often the victim is an amazing young person with so much to give and live for.’’

In March, Gauthier was riding in the front passenger seat of a Toyota 4Runner when Maxson sped through several traffic lights in Lynn and was clipped by a vehicle that had the right-of way. Maxson crashed into three cars, and his sport utility vehicle overturned, throwing Gauthier through the sunroof, near the intersection of Eastern Avenue and Glenwood Street. She died at the scene. Maxson told police he had been drinking.

At his arraignment nine months ago, Maxson pleaded not guilty, but yesterday he changed his plea to guilty. He then sat next to his lawyer as Gauthier’s relatives gave victim impact statements. Her sister, aunt, and uncle asked Lowy to impose the maximum sentence, but Marie Gauthier, the mother, talked almost exclusively about her daughter’s many accomplishments in academics and sports and how the community supported the family after her death.

“My little 19-year-old girl accomplished a lot, and now I can only imagine what she would have accomplished in the future,’’ Gauthier said.

Moments later, outside the courtroom, she said, “Considering the fact that it was not an intentional situation, he didn’t mean to hurt Julia; he didn’t mean to kill her. I’m hoping that . . . Chris rehabilitates and becomes a person that his family loves, a responsible person that gives back to his family. No one wanted this; no one signed up for this. Chris didn’t sign up for this.’’

Gauthier was a 2009 honor roll graduate of Salem High School and made the school’s Hall of Fame in field hockey and lacrosse. She was attending Salem State College at the time of the accident. Gauthier was the granddaughter of Roland F. Gauthier Jr., a well-known North Shore car dealer and community activist in Salem, who died in February.

Vincent Maxson, the defendant’s father, also gave a statement in court, saying his son had been doing well in school and socially until he experienced a “pretty life-altering event,’’ the pregnancy of his previous girlfriend. “That just seemed to trigger something.’’ Maxson said his son’s grades declined, that he began drinking and had mood swings.

With his son already on probation earlier for a drug possession offense, Maxson said that he regularly told him to stay out of trouble. But with two weeks to go before the probation expired, the elder Maxson said he decided one night, while away in New Hampshire, not to call. He turned off his cellphone, but in the morning realized he had dozens of frantic and urgent messages, from relatives, a hospital, and police.

“I thought Chris was dead,’’ Maxson said, as his son, sitting yards away, started crying.

After imposing the sentence, Lowy said he believed that Maxson, now 20, could benefit from rehabilitation, citing statements made earlier in the day by Maxson’s probation officer from the drug possession case.

The Lynn probation officer, Mark Medina, said he had continued his court-ordered monitoring of Maxson in the months after the crash, and Maxson had been struggling with bipolar disorder.

“I believe a positive rehabilitative experience would be the best for him . . . and for public safety,’’ he told Lowy.

Brian R. Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com.