Fatal crash driver sentenced during tearful hearing
By Brent Curtis
STAFF WRITER | June 28,2013
During his sentencing hearing in Windsor Superior Court Joshua Ouimette, a 26-year-old Rutland man, speaks to the family and friends of the father and son killed in an accident that Ouimette was the driver in a vehicle that police say crossed the center line on Route 4 in Bridgewater on Jan. 15, 2012.
Valley News - Jennifer Hauck
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — In the end, Joshua Ouimette’s crime came down to a matter of just a few seconds of distraction that killed two people while he was driving on Route 4, said the Windsor County judge who sentenced him Thursday.
“This case is about a few seconds,” Judge Katherine Hayes said before sentencing Ouimette, 26, of Rutland, to 30 days in jail and a number of other penalties. “His crime was a momentary loss of attention that I doubt anyone in this room with a license hasn’t experienced and I put myself on that list. We’re all very lucky, except for Joshua Ouimette, because we all managed to avoid tragedy.”
Ouimette was the driver a of 2004 GMC Envoy that crossed the center line on Route 4 in Bridgewater on Jan. 15, 2012, and crashed into an oncoming 2001 Ford Escape containing a family of four.
The driver of the other car, Christopher Raleigh, 56, of Las Vegas, Nev., and his 10-year-old son Travis died in the crash. Raleigh’s wife, Anastasia, spent more than a month recovering in a New Hampshire hospital before she could return home. Both Ouimette and his girlfriend, Stephanie Hill, were seriously injured in the crash.
A Vermont State Police investigation concluded that Ouimette was driving 65 mph in the posted 50 mph zone and that he had been distracted at the time of the crash.
Those factors led prosecutors to charge Ouimette with two felony charges of negligent operation of a motor vehicle with death resulting — offenses that carry a potential 15-year jail sentence each.
But Thursday, in a plea agreement with the Windsor County state’s attorney’s office, Ouimette pleaded guilty to a pair of misdemeanor charges of negligent operation of a motor vehicle.
The reduced charges didn’t sit well with some members of Raleigh’s family who told the court Thursday he deserved far worse.
But Hayes said during the sentencing she believed the combination of punishments outlined in the plea agreement was a fair resolution. The sentence Hayes handed down included a 30-day prison sentence — to be served on weekends starting today — a two-year loss of his driver’s license, a $2,000 fine and 400 hours of community service which will include recounting his mistake during educational speaking events.
Anastasia Raleigh, who lost her husband and son in the crash and endured more than a month of painful rehabilitation for her own injuries before she could return to Nevada with her remaining son, didn’t question the prosecution’s decision when she addressed the court, but she described the pain she has lived with since the crash.
The family was returning from a funeral in Rutland — where Christopher Raleigh was raised — when they were struck by Ouimette’s vehicle.
“We were heading to White River Junction so the kids could play in the snow when suddenly our worlds were destroyed by reckless indifference for the health and well-being of my family,” she said.
She told the judge she lost a husband who was also her business partner in a law firm and a son who she said dreamed of being an actor and who she described as “compassionate, effervescent and so excited about life.”
“I never knew what gut-wrenching pain was like before the accident,” she added.
The widow and bereaved mother finished her statement by facing Ouimette and telling him the one thing she wanted him to do was to take care of his son.
Other members of Raleigh’s family said that Ouimette deserved more time in jail for his crime.
Facing the defense table from just a few feet away, Raleigh’s brother said he didn’t believe that Ouimette and Hill didn’t remember the crash, as they told police.
“You never said what distracted you and your lack of forthcoming has left me frustrated,” Kevin Raleigh said.
“It leads me to believe you were texting or on your cellphone,” he added, noting that investigators never examined cellphones belonging to Ouimette or his girlfriend.
Police and prosecutors have a different theory for events leading up to the crash.
State’s Attorney Michael Kainen said the lead investigator in the case believes Ouimette had turned to tend to an infant in the back seat seconds before the crash.
“He thinks his hand was at 12 o’clock and he turned to look at the baby causing the wheel to turn left,” Kainen said holding onto an imaginary steering wheel and turning his body to give the judge a visual impression.
Given the lack of criminal intent or grossly negligent driving, Kainen told the judge, he believed the misdemeanor charge fit the crime and he said no amount of punishment under the law would restore the Raleigh family. “Absent the death penalty you won’t find a level of sameness with the Raleigh family,” he said.
Reflecting on recent motor vehicle deaths on Route 4, Kainen said an example does need to be made in Ouimette’s case to promote more careful driving on the road. But he said the terms of the plea deal and Ouimette’s personal torment over what he’d done, would serve as a cautionary tale for motorists.
“He will forever live with knowing that his carelessness snuffed out the lives of a beloved husband, father and friend, as well as a little boy who did not live to see his 11th birthday,” Kainen said. “I don’t think anyone wants to be Joshua Ouimette today.”
That point appeared clear when Ouimette addressed the family directly Thursday in an appeal not for forgiveness but for understanding.
“I don’t know how to express how horrible I feel, but not a day goes by that I don’t feel guilty,” Ouimette said, his face twisted with emotion.
“I understand how you feel about me and I would feel the same way if I were you,” he said. “Whenever I’m with my son I’m reminded of all you’ve lost. ... I don’t expect forgiveness, I simply want you to know how sorry for your loss I am.”
Ouimette also said he was trying to devote his life to helping others and being a good father.
The tragic circumstances for all in the room resonated with the judge, who fought off tears while sentencing Ouimette.
“I hope you all saw as I did how very painful this is for him and that he is taking this very seriously,” Hayes said. “But there has to be consequences because as drivers we drive huge dangerous weapons down the road ... because just a few seconds of diversion can be devastating.”