Lack of bail in hit and run case irks some
By Brent Curtis
STAFF WRITER | May 03,2013
Vyto Starinskas / Staff Photo
Christopher Sullivan arrives at Rutland criminal court Thursday afternoon to answer charges in a hit-and-run crash that killed a Mendon woman last month.
The lack of cash bail or mandatory incarceration for Christopher Sullivan brought Jennifer Traynor to tears on Thursday.
Standing outside the Rutland courthouse where Sullivan had minutes earlier pleaded innocent to charges of leaving the scene of a fatal crash and driving under the influence in a fatal crash, the Rutland woman told reporters she believed she was speaking for the entire community when she said she was outraged that the former city official was set free instead of being locked up on bail.
“I’m disgusted. The whole city is disgusted,” she said as she choked back tears. “He’s getting off because of who he is.”
The comments made by Traynor, one of several Rutland residents who came to watch the court proceedings, reflected sentiments heard during the last three weeks on the city’s streets and on social media sites.
Many have argued that Sullivan, a former longtime legal counsel for City Hall, was receiving special treatment because he wasn’t instantly arrested and jailed after he identified himself as the driver in the crash that killed 71-year-old Jane Outlsay.
Most upsetting to Traynor on Thursday was the position that prosecutors with the Vermont attorney general’s office took on bail.
Instead of seeking to incarcerate Sullivan, who faces up to 30 years in jail, until his trial, Assistant Attorney General Cindy Maguire told the judge that prosecutors don’t have a problem allowing Sullivan to remain free on a $10,000 unsecured appearance bond.
An unsecured bond is only paid if a defendant fails to appear for a scheduled court appearance.
Law enforcement officials, starting with Rutland Police Chief James Baker, have denied treating Sullivan differently than any other suspect under similar circumstances. Maguire said after the hearing that the decision to release Sullivan without bail was no exception.
“I can assure you this defendant has not received any special treatment by virtue of his profession,” she said. “This is a complicated and lengthy investigation.”
Maguire said the decision to release Sullivan without bail was based on the lack of risk that he would flee or not appear at future court hearings. In Vermont, risk of flight is the measure for bail arguments.
With a home, business and family in the community, combined with the fact that he identified himself to police as the driver of the car — something Maguire described as a “turning point” in the hit-and-run investigation — the prosecutor said Sullivan did not represent a flight risk.
Sullivan was also ordered Thursday to turn over his passport and was prohibited from drinking alcohol.
One liberty he does retain is the ability to drive. While a court-imposed condition does exist that would allow prosecutors to ask for restrictions or even a prohibition on Sullivan’s right to drive, Maguire said prosecutors chose not to ask for the condition. She declined to elaborate on that decision.
For Gregor Outslay, Jane Outslay’s youngest son, the decision not to restrict Sullivan’s ability to drive was the only decision made by the prosecution that troubled him
“That is kind of surprising, but it doesn’t change the outcome,” he said.
While many in the community have expressed outrage over Sullivan’s alleged conduct and the perception of special treatment in the case, Outslay’s family members have remained distant from the investigation — focusing on the loss of their loved one and even shunning Sullivan’s arraignment Thursday.
“We don’t find going to it necessary,” Gregor Outslay said before the hearing. “It doesn’t do anything more for the memory of my mother.”
Outslay’s son described the crash that killed his mother as a tragedy — for his family and for Sullivan’s.
“It’s a terrible situation for both families,” he said. “Expressing joy about what’s happening (to Sullivan) would be inappropriate. I can’t imagine what his family is going through.”
The loss of his mother, who helped run the family’s restaurant on Woodstock Avenue and who served for decades as a nurse, has left a wound that he said the family is trying to heal from and move forward.
But he said he didn’t believe depriving Sullivan’s children of their father and breadwinner would help that process.
“I know he has a family and they need him. For him to be incarcerated isn’t going to do anything for anybody,” he said. “This has been a terrible tragedy that has broken two households at least. My heart goes out to them as well.”