BANGOR
MAINE— A jury swayed back and forth Wednesday as they tried to
determine whether the bow man in a canoe was truly relevant to its
operation in a drunken canoeing trial in Penobscot County Superior
Court. The state claimed that Derek Hamel was tipsy as he paddled
his way down the Kenduskeag Stream during the annual canoe race in
1996. On TV’s “People’s Court,” it might have been called
the case of the alleged “Pickled Paddler.”

Hamel’s
attorney, Julio DeSanctis, spent much of the day trying to convince
the jury that his client wasn’t really relevant at all. He called
another local attorney, Hillary Billings, to the stand to testify as
an “expert” canoeist.

Billings
has been racing canoes for 15 years and has an impressive array of
canoeing awards, but teetered a bit on the witness stand, first
saying that a bow man didn’t contribute much more than power to the
operation, but acknowledging that they could be critically important
in some maneuvers.


“Do they
just sit their like a potted plant?” asked a rather exasperated
Jim Diehl of the Penobscot County District Attorney’s Office.

Billings
thought that was a bit of an understatement. But the stern man is
really the “captain” said Billings, which by the way is his
position in the canoe. It’s the stern man who pilots and navigates
the canoe along its path.

Hamel’s
stern man happened to be his cousin, Todd Hamel, who already pleaded
guilty to operating a water craft while under the influence of
intoxicating liquor and paid a fine. He testified Wednesday that he
had probably 6, 7, 8 or maybe 9 beers before he met up with the
wardens who lined the stream banks looking for tipsy canoeists on
that cold April day. He didn’t have any idea how many beers his
cousin had. Derek Hamel said he had had only two. He had a
blood-alcohol level of .09. The legal limit is .08.

The
trial started Wednesday morning and lasted the entire day. Three
game wardens spent the whole day sequestered outside the courtroom.
Other scheduled court proceedings were delayed as the trial
continued. Finally, at nearly 4 p.m., the case went to the jury for
deliberations.

But
like a poor paddling team, the jurors had a difficult time getting in
sync and deliberations swayed off course. Not only were they unable
to determine whether Derek Hamel was guilty of operating the canoe
while intoxicated, they also had difficulty deciding whether or not
they could decide. After deliberating for about three hours, they
returned to the courtroom to say they were hopelessly deadlocked —
unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

Was
Hamel really drunk? Was he, as the bow man, really “operating”
the canoe at all? DeSanctis requested that the court clerk poll the
jurors individually to ensure they were all in agreement that they
were truly 100 percent deadlocked.

“Yes,”
said juror No. 1. “Yes,” said juror No. 2. “Yes,”
said juror No. 3. “I’m not so sure,” said juror No. 4.

“OK,”
said Justice Andrew Mead, “Go back and try again.”

So
back into the jury room they went. What happened to juror No. 4’s
popularity rating when the group got back behind closed doors is not
known. But in a short while they returned.

“Guilty,”
said the jury forewoman.

“Let’s
poll the jury again,” said DeSanctis.

“Guilty,”
said juror No. 1. “I’m not so sure,” said juror No. 2.
And the group filed back into the corner room to try again. Finally,
at 8:30 p.m., they returned to say they were once again hopelessly
deadlocked.

This
time they all agreed and after nearly 12 hours, Mead declared a
mistrial and jurors and Derek Hamel went home. And whether the bow
man in a canoe is truly relevant to its operation has yet to be
resolved.

The
Penobscot County District Attorney’s Office is unsure whether they
will try Hamel again.


By
Ronee Ordway of the NEWS Staff
From The Eddy Line, September 1997

More information on drinking and canoeing