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Metro

Lowell police officer charged in fatal crash

Eric Wayne.

Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff/file 2014

Eric Wayne.

A Lowell police officer was charged with motor vehicle homicide and drunken driving after a crash early Saturday morning in Methuen left a young Lawrence man dead and his sister injured.

Methuen police say Officer Eric Wayne, 41, from Lowell, was driving a 2013 Land Rover westbound on Riverside Drive when he crossed the double yellow line and struck a 1998 Mercury Mountaineer at approximately 12:30 a.m. Saturday.

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Firefighters used the Jaws of Life to extricate the driver of the Mountaineer, 26-year-old Briant Paula, from the car. He was pronounced dead at Lawrence General Hospital after suffering massive trauma, police say.

His sister, Lois Paula, 24, who was in the passenger seat, was also taken to that hospital. She was expected to survive.

Wayne refused medical treatment at the scene at 868 Riverside Drive, according to police.

He was arrested and taken to the Methuen police station, where he was charged with driving under the influence of liquor, having an open container of alcohol in the car, negligence, and marked lanes violation, in addition to vehicular homicide.

He is being held on $500,000 cash bail awaiting a Monday arraignment in Lawrence District Court, according to Essex District Attorney spokeswoman Carrie Kimball Monahan.

Wayne had been arrested in July 2013 in Lowell on charges of operating under the influence of alcohol, according to a report in the Lowell Sun.

After the 2013 case, Wayne was placed on paid administrative leave, then reinstated in June, Lowell Police Superintendent William Taylor told the Sun on Saturday.

Because that charge and Saturday’s are still pending, Wayne has not been formally disciplined, Taylor told the Sun.

Neighbors in Briant Paula’s Lawrence apartment complex remembered him Saturday as an easygoing, cheerful friend.

“He was a happy, lovable person and always looked out for everybody around here,” said neighbor Freddy DeJesus, 21. “He was always even-keeled and happy. You never saw him sad, ever.”

DeJesus’ grandmother Ana Belen, 63, said Paula was a good son and a hard worker. She and a neighbor used to joke around with Paula, calling him their husband.

“I treated him like my son,” she said. “I can’t even speak because I loved him so much and he was such a nice guy.”

Paula shared an apartment with his mother and sister, DeJesus said, and had an “awesome” relationship with them, as well as other building tenants.

“It was always a welcoming, mutual kind of friendship,” DeJesus said.

Paula said those in the apartment will have to help each other move past the shocking loss.

“The best thing I can say is, he will forever be missed,” he said. “He was the biggest piece in keeping everybody together and happy as a whole in this community.”

Wayne has an open case in Lawrence following his 2013 arrest on charges of operating under the influence, Kimball Monahan said.

The Lowell Sun reported that he was arrested and charged by Lowell police on July 4, 2013, with driving under the influence of alcohol.

Police found an open bottle of beer in his car, and Wayne failed a field sobriety test that day, the Sun reported.

The Lowell Police Department referred all questions Saturday to the Essex district attorney’s office.

In a May profile, the Globe dubbed the officer Lowell’s “vegan mayor” for his love of vegan food.

The Lowell organic restaurant Life Alive, where Wayne was a regular, named a dish for him: “the 5-0.”

“I feel like I haven’t aged in seven years,” he said then, touting the benefits of healthy eating.

The chief operating officer of Life Alive, Steve Anderson, said the company’s thoughts are first and foremost with the Paula family.

“Our hearts and prayers go out to the family,” Anderson said. “It’s such a tragic thing to lose such a young person.”

Wayne, the son of a decorated Lowell police detective who died in 2009, ran the Boston Marathon this year after meeting Kevin Corcoran, whose wife, Celeste, lost her legs in the bombings.

Wayne’s run benefited MyTeam Triumph, a nonprofit that pairs able-bodied runners with the disabled.

According to a post on the Internet Movie Database, Wayne had a small role as a Lowell police officer in the 2010 movie “The Fighter.”

Claire McNeill can be reached at claire.mcneill@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @clairemcneill
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