By Eric Francis
HARTLAND – A good Samaritan, who also turned out to be a drunk driver, will get to keep his commercial driver’s license under the terms of a plea agreement worked out this week.
Daniel Hamel, 47, of Hartland pled guilty Tuesday to drunk driving – first offense – and received a rare one-year deferred sentence under the terms of the agreement struck with the state, which means that if Hamel stays out of trouble for a year while on probation then no formal sentencing will take place.
The unusual case arose on the morning of October 9 after Hamel, a commercial truck driver, finished work and drove to an off-road location in South Woodstock early in the morning where he was planning to go hunting. Hamel told investigators he’d had a few beers and then got in his pickup truck, planning to go less than a mile to a hunting location when he came across a car upside down just off Morgan Hill Road.
Hamel discovered Steven Leninski Sr. covered in blood, got him into his truck, and tried first to drive him to the Ottauquechee Health Center and then, discovering that was closed on the weekend, changed plans and drove Leninski clear to Mount Ascutney Hospital in Windsor.
“I did what I thought was best,” a subdued Hamel told the court on Tuesday after he entered a guilty plea to the drunk driving charge.
At the hospital, nurses in the emergency room noticed a strong smell of alcohol when Hamel brought Leninski inside and they contacted the Windsor police who intercepted Hamel in the parking lot where he blew a 0.145 percent blood alcohol level on a breath test.
Speaking after Tuesday’s hearing, Leninski Sr., who accompanied Hamel to court, said he was pleased with the outcome.
Leninski said he’d just had his brakes fixed but when he came over a crest in the roadway he discovered he had “not an ounce of brakes.”
“I was going 80 miles an hour down Morgan Hill,” Leninski recalled. I decided to turn uphill to try and slow it but that’s what flipped it over. I’m lucky to be alive. I was behind two trees. The car was a perfect fit between them. It took bark off one tree and bark off the other.”
Leninski said he was trapped there with a head laceration and the horrifying thought that he was off the edge of one of the lesser-traveled roads in the area on an especially quiet weekend morning.
“My shoes were filling with blood, my clothes were soaked in it, and I was there for 20 minutes and not a soul came by except for him,” Leninski said, adding that he had not notice any signs of impairment on Hamel’s part and he only heard of Hamel’s arrest the following day after he was released from the hospital.
“He did a good job and he did the right thing,” Leninski said.
In granting the deferred sentence on Tuesday, Judge Patricia Zimmerman stressed from the bench that she was not doing so out of any concern that to punish Hamel might discourage other Good Samaritans from choosing to stop and help in similar circumstances.
While acknowledging that Hamel “did a good thing for Mr. Leninski” she added “there is just as good an argument that you put other people at risk.”
Judge Zimmerman said the case was similar to the ethical arguments that arise when someone is driving at 100 mph down the road because their wife is about to have a baby “when they should have stopped and called an ambulance.”
Citing other factors in the case, Zimmerman gave Hamel the deferred sentence and ordered him to also perform 40 hours of community service.
“I was willing to take the plea agreement because I was behind the wheel,” Hamel said afterwards, adding, “I’m very happy that I get to keep my (commercial) license because you only get one chance with those.”
By Eric Francis