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Driver arraigned in fatal accident

Prosecutor alleges use of marijuana

By Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / March 8, 2011

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PEABODY — A Melrose man was under the influence of marijuana when his car swerved off Route 1 in Lynnfield Friday night and crashed into two vehicles in the breakdown lane, killing a taxi driver and seriously injuring a boy, prosecutors said at his arraignment yesterday.

According to court documents, William Halpin III, 25, told a state trooper who asked him if he had been drinking, “No, but I might have weed on me.’’

Authorities said they found two pipes with fresh marijuana residue, one inside Halpin’s car and the other, along with three bags of marijuana, near the scene.

According to witnesses in the court papers, Halpin attempted to hide the other pipe and the bags outside the car.

“Our family, we’re all hurting,’’ said Jose Vargas, brother of Victor Vargas, the 42-year-old taxi driver and father of two from Lynn. “My brother was a good man, and he’s dead now but the person who killed him is free now, for $25,000.’’

Halpin, with his parents looking on, was charged with motor vehicle homicide, operating under the influence of drugs (second offense), and possession of drugs with intent to distribute. He was ordered held on $25,000 cash bail, but was expected to be released by early afternoon after bail was posted.

Prosecutor Gabrielle Clark had requested that Halpin be held on $50,000 bail. She said that witnesses observed him driving in an “extremely dangerous manner’’ prior to the collision and that he failed two sobriety tests.

State Police said Halpin’s eyes were glassy and that he smelled of marijuana.

The Registry of Motor Vehicles suspended Halpin’s license soon after the crash, deeming him an immediate threat to public safety.

Halpin’s lawyer, Mike Farrington, entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf. Farrington said Halpin, a graduate of Boston College High School and Stonehill College, is remorseful.

“In my first meeting with him, the first thing that came out of his mouth was, ‘I was driving and I killed a man.’ He was still shaking and he felt so badly,’’ Farrington said during the arraignment. After the proceeding in Essex County District Court in Peabody, Halpin’s father, William J. Halpin Jr., chief executive of the South Boston Community Health Center, declined to comment but issued a statement.

“We were devastated when we heard the news of the horrible accident. We can only say that we love our son and that our thoughts and prayers are with the Vargas Family and the others hurt,’’ said the statement.

Halpin was convicted of drunken driving following a 2007 crash in Easton, according to Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett’s office and Registry records.

State Police said Halpin was driving north on Route 1 in Lynnfield Friday just after 8 p.m. when he entered the breakdown lane and struck Vargas.

Vargas had parked his taxi on the side of the road because he had been involved in a minor fender-bender with another car. Vargas and the other driver were standing between the parked vehicles in the breakdown lane when Halpin struck the car and then hit Vargas, according to State Police.

A 6-year-old boy sitting inside the car was injured in the arm and shoulder. He is being treated at Children’s Hospital Boston.

Originally from the Dominican Republic, Vargas was married, with an 8-year-old son and 16-year-old daughter. He had been working for Garcia’s Taxi of Lynn since December, according to Pablo Garcia, the company’s owner.

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