LAWRENCE — A Lowell police officer accused of driving drunk and killing a man in a head-on collision Saturday morning called for a ride from the crash scene, saying he had been in a serious accident and needed to “effin’ get out of here,” prosecutors said Monday.
In slow, slurred words, Eric Wayne, a longtime Lowell police officer, kept repeating that he was “a good person,” according to court records.
Authorities allege that Wayne, 41, was drunk when his car crossed the double lines into oncoming traffic around 12:30 a.m. Saturday in Methuen, killing Briant Paula, 26, of Lawrence, and injuring Paula’s sister.
It is Wayne’s second time to face drunken driving allegations. The officer was charged with drunken driving in July 2013 in Lowell, and his license was suspended for six months, according to court records.
Lowell police officials could not be reached Monday, but according to the Lowell Sun, Wayne was placed on administrative leave in July 2013, then reinstated in June. That drunken driving case remains open.
At Wayne’s arraignment Monday, prosecutors said Wayne had a history of driving infractions, including speeding and failing to stop.
Wayne pleaded not guilty to charges of motor vehicle homicide and was ordered held on $100,000 bail.
Outside the Lawrence courthouse, Paula’s family declined to comment. But one relative said he was furious that a police officer would act as if he were above the law.
“He probably thought he could drive drunk and nothing would happen to him,” said one relative, who declined to give his name.
Because Lowell police officials were not available to comment Monday, it is unclear what policies and procedures the department has to deal with officers who are arrested or accused of drunken driving.
State Police officers who are arrested for any reason are immediately relieved of duty, said spokesman David Procopio. A three-officer panel then holds a “duty status” hearing to review the circumstances of the arrest, and recommend disciplinary action.
“Generally a member who is arrested will be suspended without pay indefinitely,” he said. “We then monitor the criminal case and reassess the member’s suspension at the conclusion of criminal proceedings.”
State Police also conduct an internal investigation to determine whether department policies were violated.
Friends and relatives of Paula filled the courtroom for Wayne’s arraignment, glaring at Wayne and wiping away tears as a prosecutor described the fatal crash. When Wayne’s lawyer asked that bail be set at $10,000, they shouted in anger.
“It’s murder!” one man cried.
Wayne showed no emotion during the outburst, and stared straight ahead.
His lawyer, Carmine Lepore, said Wayne, born and raised in Lowell, is a 19-year veteran of the Lowell Police Department. His family remains in the area.
“He knows no other place,” Lepore said.
Lepore said prosecutors were seeking bail that was “punitive,” and that Wayne had no criminal record.
Assistant District Attorney Michelle DeFeo, who sought to have Wayne held on $500,000 bail, said Wayne was unsteady on his feet after the crash and spoke very slowly. He initially gave police a false name, and when asked for his address gave his date of birth.
“7/10/73,” he said. “That’s the best way to get me.”
After he was arrested, Wayne refused to cooperate and spoke in incoherent mumbles, DeFeo said.
“He became almost unintelligible at points,” she said, and was unable to follow simple instructions. According to a police report, officers detected “an overpowering” odor of alcohol from Wayne, and noticed he was unsteady on his feet. He avoided eye contact with the officer, staring at the crash and asking if the people in the other car were all right.
He said he did not know how the crash happened, and could not remember anything before it happened. He initially gave his name as Eric Blane before signing his actual name to refuse medical treatment. Wayne declined a breath test.
He told police he had not been drinking, saying “I’m fine . . . I will have someone pick me up.”
On the ride to the station, Wayne kept repeating: “I’m a good person. You don’t know me, but I’m a good person,” according to police. As he spoke, his words got slower and more drawn out, police said.
Lepore said the Lowell police had not yet addressed Wayne’s employment status.
In the 2013 arrest in Lowell, an officer pulled Wayne over to discuss an “administrative matter” that had arisen that morning, and found that his eyes were bloodshot and glassy, according to a police report filed in court.Peter Schworm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.