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Wednesday, September 9, 1998

Convicted man vows he'll make a difference

Staff Writer

©copyright 1998 Guy Gannett Communications

Jeffrey Legere will spend the next two years of his life in jail for getting drunk, getting in his car and causing the death of his close friend, Brooke Olsen.

The 22-year-old Chebeague Island man vowed Tuesday that once he gets out of jail, he will devote his life to raising awareness in his island community about the hazards of alcohol in hopes of preventing more tragedy and heartache.

"I want to do what I can to help other people before it's too late and they end up like me," Legere said during a telephone interview from the Cumberland County Jail. "I'm going to try to do the right thing from here on out."

Legere and his friend, Scott Belesca, 27, were sentenced Friday for their roles in the June 8, 1997, car crash that killed Olsen, a 21-year-old college student.

The crash occurred at 1 a.m. after the three left Chebeague Island's only bar. Legere drove a car with Olsen and three other passengers. Belesca drove by himself. Olsen died of head injuries after the speeding cars collided, sending Legere's Honda Accord careening into a telephone pole.

Legere, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter, reckless conduct and drunken driving, was sentenced to 27 months in jail, followed by a six-year probation. He risks almost six more years in prison if he violates his probation.

Belesca, convicted by a jury in July of manslaughter, aggravated assault and reckless conduct, received a 24-month jail sentence and a six-year probation. He faces more than five years more if he does not abide by his probation.

While on probation, both men must provide 500 hours of community service on Chebeague Island or in an alcohol awareness program elsewhere.

Also, they are each required to contribute as much as $10,000 to a scholarship fund the Olsen family has established at the Darling Marine Center in Walpole, where Brooke was studying marine biology at the time of her death.

Assistant District Attorney Andrew Bloom said the sentences imposed by Justice Robert E. Crowley reflected an effort to appropriately punish their behavior while also trying to see some good arise from the tragedy. Bloom had requested three-year sentences for each man.

Frank Olsen said his daughter, known as deeply caring with a powerful sense of adventure, staunchly opposed the abuse of alcohol by young people.

"I think that from Brooke's point of view, she would have felt that the sentences were fair," Olsen said. "She would see that there is now the possibility that some good could come from this."

Legere said his belief that he can make a change on the island will help carry him through the next two years of jail life. Belesca did not return a telephone call to the jail.

Legere said he and Belesca plan to set up an alcohol abuse program on the island. He said their aim will be to convince young people that the island way of life, deeply rooted in good times and alcohol, must change.

"We need to try to get it through somebody's head," Legere said. "There's a difference between being responsible and being irresponsible. Out there, you're seeing a lot of (alcohol) abuse and irresponsibility. People have a mentality that living on Chebeague Island, it's a permanent vacation."

Frank Olsen said he has some measure of confidence that Legere can make a difference.

"Jeffrey is a good boy, he's not an evil man," Olsen said. "I think he'll follow through on what he says."

The accident has caused some to look at the island community and wonder if changes are needed. Some say there is too much drinking, accompanied by a false sense of freedom to do as one pleases.

About 350 people live year-round on the Casco Bay island, separated from the mainland by a 15-minute ferry ride. The population swells to 2,000 in the summer.

Legere said that as the initial shock of the accident wore off, the island's young people returned to the habits he once shared.

"People were telling me sorry, that it could have been us at any time. And I'm saying, 'Yeah, it could have been you and it still could be you if you don't wake up,'" he said.

Legere, who works as a house painter and carpenter, said he had always shared their sense of invincibility, until it was too late.

"Take any of those people drinking in the bars in Portland," he said. "How many are going to get in their cars drunk? Fifty percent? Sixty percent? It's just not something that comes across your mind until there's a tragedy."

Last winter, Legere said, he met with a 17-year-old island boy whose mother was worried he was taking her car and driving drunk. Legere said he made an impact on the boy after describing the loss of his close friend a death he caused.

He said the boy's mother later reported to him that her son had "straightened out."

"I understand that I was at fault. I take full responsibility for my actions," he said. "As much as I wished and dreamed of changing things, there's no denying what happened. I'm just trying to go on from here."

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