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Probation for highway rock-hurler; Judge cites childhood troubles, domestic problems.

Byline: Gary V. Murray

WORCESTER - A Southbridge man who pleaded guilty last week in Worcester Superior Court to throwing rocks and other objects at tractor-trailers on Route 49 was placed on probation yesterday, with a suspended jail sentence hanging over his head.

Judge John S. McCann sentenced Robert A. Canavan to a total of six years in the House of Correction, but suspended the sentences for five years, during which Mr. Canavan will be on probation. As conditions of probation, Mr. Canavan, 30, of 62 Lovely St., Southbridge, was ordered not to drive for three years, to abstain from the use of alcohol and non-prescribed drugs and to undergo a drug- and alcohol-evaluation and any related treatment recommended by the Probation Department.

He was further ordered to pay restitution in an amount to be determined.

"Second chances don't come all the time. I wish him well," Cheryl McKissick of Charlton, one of Mr. Canavan's victims, said when asked for comment after the court hearing. She said she would have preferred a harsher sentence, but understood that the judge viewed Mr. Canavan's background as "a sad story."

Mr. Canavan pleaded guilty March 6 to four counts each of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and malicious destruction of property valued at more than $250 and a single count of assault with a dangerous weapon. The charges stemmed from four incidents from Sept. 18 to Sept. 26, in which Mr. Canavan hurled objects at tractor-trailers on Route 49 in Spencer and East Brookfield when he was driving in the opposite direction.

The windshields of all four tractor-trailers were broken, and some of the victims suffered minor injuries when they were struck by flying glass.

Mr. Canavan, who became a suspect in the investigation when he made admissions to a co-worker, confessed to the crimes when questioned by police Sept. 27. He told investigators he had no explanation for his actions, according to prosecutors.

Judge McCann accepted Mr. Canavan's guilty pleas last week and postponed sentencing until yesterday to allow him time to review a psychological evaluation of Mr. Canavan prepared by a forensic consultant hired by Mr. Canavan's lawyer, John J. Roemer.

Citing the psychological report yesterday, Judge McCann said Mr. Canavan was diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome as a child, but that the condition went untreated. The judge said the syndrome, which results from excessive alcohol consumption by a mother during pregnancy, is often accompanied by hyperactivity and intellectual deficits.

Other common symptoms, he said, include difficulties with judgment and reasoning and an inability to appreciate the consequences of one's actions.

While the condition did not justify Mr. Canavan's actions, it might help explain them, Judge McCann said.

The judge noted that Mr. Canavan, who came from a broken home, attended private Christian schools throughout New England as a child and graduated from Zion Bible College in Barrington, R.I., had no prior criminal record.

According to Mr. Roemer, Mr. Canavan was abusing alcohol and prescription medications at the time of the offenses, which followed a disabling back injury that kept him out of work, and a separation from his wife and three children.

Assistant District Attorney Blake J. Rubin said a state prison sentence of four to five years was warranted because Mr. Canavan's crimes posed a risk of serious injury or death.

While acknowledging that the offenses were "extraordinarily serious" and that someone could have been killed, Judge McCann said he did not believe a prison sentence was appropriate. Judge McCann cautioned Mr. Canavan that he would have to serve at least three years in the House of Correction if he violates his probation.

ART: PHOTO

CUTLINE: Mr. Canavan
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 13, 2007
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