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Rutland man charged in fatal crash; held on $50K bail

A Pine Street man is being held on $50,000 bail after being arraigned Friday for a felony count of grossly negligent driving for a crash on Route 7 on Thursday, which caused the death of Jacqueline Burch, 26, of Pittsford.

Michael D. Reed, 27, of Rutland, pleaded not guilty in Rutland criminal court to the felony charge and a misdemeanor charge of driving with a suspended license.

Judge David Fenster, explaining his decision for the bail amount, noted the police affidavit in the case said two emergency medical technicians told police they saw Reed apparently “huffing” from an aerosol can after the crash.

In an affidavit, Detective Ryan Ashe said police became involved in the case after being dispatched to a multi-vehicle crash in the area of North Main Street and Rotary Park on Route 7 in Rutland around 10:15 a.m. Thursday.

Rutland Police Officer Rick Caravaggio was one of the first officers on the scene, Ashe said. He noted a blue Chevrolet in the middle of North Main Street, also known as Route 7, and a Subaru Forester off the the roadway in the grass at the bottom of a small embankment. Reed was sitting in the Forester.

Carvaggio flagged down an ambulance to direct assistance toward Reed. Two EMTs, Forest Peront and Courtney Harvey, assessed Reed.

“Later, when I interviewed EMT Peront at the office of the Rutland Regional Ambulance Service, he informed me that he was attempting to bring Reed over to the ambulance, but Reed would not listen. Reed reached into the vehicle and Peront observed Reed ‘huff’ out of an aerosol can,” Ashe wrote.

Harvey said she watched Reed huffing through the back window of the Forester.

Harvey and Peront said Reed refused treatment at the scene.

Ashe also described the efforts of Officer James Rajda to assist Burch. The doors were locked so Rajda broke the window with a knife and a baton. Burch was lying diagonally across the front seats.

Rajda and an EMT tried to help Burch, but as she was being driven in an ambulance, emergency responders determined she had died.

During their investigation, police found that Burch’s Chevrolet Trax was hit by a Foley’s delivery truck. Timothy Hilder, 49, the driver of the truck, was taken to Rutland Regional Medical Center where he was treated and released.

According to Ashe, Reed was seen by two drug-recognition experts, but Ashe said the results of those examinations were not available at the time the affidavit was written.

Ashe said Reed agreed to give an evidentiary blood sample but not to answer questions. However, while Reed was at the hospital, he spoke with his mother, Jennifer Jackson. Officers at RRMC told Ashe that Jackson asked about the accident, and Reed told her someone died.

“Jackson asked if Reed was somehow responsible and Reed replied, ‘Yep,’” Ashe wrote in the affidavit.

Witnesses to the accident told police the driver of the compact sport utility vehicle was speeding. Ashe said physical evidence at the scene also indicated the Forester was straddling the road lines rather than staying inside a lane.

Ashe noted the area where the crash occurred is a four-lane road with a speed limit of 35 mph.

During Reed’s arraignment, there were many police officers present in the courtroom, including Cmdr. David LaChance of the Rutland City Police Department.

After the arraignment, LaChance said it was an important case to the officers who investigated, especially because a local resident died and the accused driver was not allowed to be behind the wheel at the time. He said he was proud that his officers had been able to make an arrest so soon.

“My detectives came in from the beginning, and we worked all night last night ’til late, late last night and came right in first thing this morning. There’s still a lot of work to do in this case, but we wanted to get the affidavits done, completed today, due to the seriousness of the crime and the events that occurred to get some justice started,” he said.

If Reed is convicted of both charges, he could be sentenced to up to 17 years in jail.

Also, Reed was charged with violating his probation on a charge of possession of stolen property. Reed was in the midst of a deferred sentence for grand larceny.

A defendant who receives a deferred sentence has his or her sentencing deferred for a specific time period. If that period passes without further legal issues, the sentencing doesn’t happen and the charge is removed from the defendant’s record.

Fenster ordered that Reed, if he posts bail, not drive, observe a 24-hour curfew and not possess aerosols or inhalants.



Photo by Jon Olender  

Wheels for Warmth

Brad Matteson, of Rutland, sorts tires at Casella Construction in Mendon on Friday afternoon for the Wheels for Warmth Program. The program was started by Phil Scott 15 years ago. The proceeds from the sales of tires will be donated to BROC for heating assistance.

Criminal Justice
Criminal justice: 'Catch-and-release' creates questions

BARRE — While organizations like the Vermont chapter of the ACLU are calling for fewer people behind bars, the public perception appears to be that the state is running a “catch-and-release” criminal justice system.

Last weekend, police announced they had arrested two Massachusetts men on drug charges.

Eric A. Vasquez, 26, and Alex Xavier Rodriguez, 23, both of Springfield, Massachusetts, were charged with felony counts of heroin trafficking and possession of marijuana. They both pleaded not guilty to the charges Monday.

Police said Vasquez and Rodriguez had large amounts of heroin and marijuana on them. A witness told police he or she had seen Vasquez with a large amount of heroin and witnessed him selling the drug to people.

Both men were ordered held on $25,000 bail and it appears Rodriguez has posted that bail because he is no longer listed in the Department of Corrections database as being in custody. Vasquez remains in custody.

The case drew criticism from the public because Vasquez was supposed to be on probation after pleading guilty in March to a felony count of heroin possession and a misdemeanor count of giving false information to law enforcement. Vasquez was sentenced to two to five years, all suspended except for eight months with credit for time served. After Vasquez was released from prison in March he never met with his probation officer, according to court records.

Those on social media and leaving comments on news stories about the case said the state is running a “catch-and-release” system where offenders get light sentences or released on conditions for serious crimes.

One user on the Vermont subreddit, a page on the online platform Reddit dedicated to the state, said in part, “Drugs should be legal, so that (expletives) like this aren’t the ones selling them, among other reasons. But until then, we can’t keep doing this catch-and-release (expletive).”

These comments come on the heels of a report from the Vermont chapter of the ACLU proposing reforms to the criminal justice system that would reduce by hundreds the number of those incarcerated. Officials consistently bring up the crowded state of Vermont’s prisons. Also, Vermont houses more than 200 inmates in a for-profit prison in Mississippi.

Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault said the two most frequent complaints his office receives are people who are confused or upset about someone being charged with a serious crime getting released on conditions and people assuming putting someone on probation is a “slap on the wrist.”

“I think that there’s still many people who don’t feel comfortable with the system as it’s evolved and stepped away from incarceration. That friction is not easily overcome. I think the confidence in the system comes from seeing actual change in behavior. From seeing increases in public safety,” Thibault said.

Beside reforms to the criminal justice system, he said sometimes an offender receives what some may see as a light sentence in a case because witnesses or the victim aren’t willing to cooperate or issues with the evidence may be discovered as the case progresses.

“Just because charges are filed does not mean we are sitting on a perfect case or an absolute recitation of the facts. In many cases, the high-water mark for the strength of the case is the day of arraignment and from there it only gets worse as memories fade or defense counsel begins discovery on behalf of their clients and begin bringing facts or evidence that maybe were not available at the time of charging,” he said.

Thibault said when dealing with cases, his office strives for accountability from the offender, reduction of risk for the community and victim input and victim safety. He said victims don’t always agree with a certain sentence, but his office tries to explain as best it can why that sentence is appropriate.

Robert Sand is the founding director of the Center for Justice Reform at the Vermont Law School. Sand also served for 15 years as the state’s attorney in Windsor County.

He said the language of the criminal justice system historically has revolved around punishment.

“That’s what we think about when we think about consequences in our justice system. Since language informs thinking, that influences how people think about what outcomes should be like. Until we learn a new dialogue about different responses in the criminal justice system, there are going to be people, maybe a considerable number of people, who think ‘Oh, that punishment wasn’t enough,’” he said.

Sand said part of that comes from what the goals are of the criminal justice system. He said if the goals of the system are enhanced public safety, accountability and repairing harm, sending people to prison doesn’t accomplish that.

“Sending people to jail increases the likelihood that they’re going to go to jail again. So there are groups, well beyond the ACLU, including people in the Legislature, who recognize that incarcerating people is not an effective way to create an overall or net enhancement in public safety,” Sand said.

For those who get upset about someone being released on conditions instead of held on bail, he said there is a presumption of innocence until proven guilty in the U.S. He said people sometimes lose sight of that.

“People effectively get tried by virtue of charges being filed even though they are still presumed innocent,” he said.

Sand said inflicting harm, in this case putting someone behind bars, for inflicting harm is a counterproductive response. He said someone harms someone else and the way we teach them that’s wrong is to harm them.

“That’s fundamentally irrational,” he said, adding there are certain cases where someone does need to go to prison in order to protect the public.

Sand said who the accused offender is also matters in terms of perception. He said when he was state’s attorney some of the toughest “law and order” police officers he dealt with would sometimes call him up to ask for leniency for a family member or a friend charged with a crime.

“Once it was one of us, take it easy. Once it’s somebody else, that’s when you bring the hammer down,” he said.

As for the “catch-and-release” phrase, Sand said that comes from fishing where fish are caught and thrown back into the water to preserve and not harm the species. He said excessive incarceration harms humanity.



Abortion care opponents hold vigil outside clinic

Eight people gathered outside the Rutland Planned Parenthood center Friday to participate in “40 Days For Life,” a public demonstration involving fasting, prayer offerings and “community outreach” sign-holding outside abortion care providers.

Co-organizer Delia Warnecke made a sign with the words “HOPE” on it, and held it alongside others who had their own signs saying “Pray to End Abortion” and “Please choose Life.”

“Abortion is not the answer,” Warnecke said. “We’re here not only to pray for the unborn children to live their lives and not be cut short here but also for the moms and the dads that they can live a life without regret.”

Warnecke said the group prays for abortion care providers as well. Fellow participant JoAnn Nickels said the invocation of the number 40 came from the Gospel of Mark in the New Testament, in which Jesus says a demon can only be cast out by 40 days of prayer and fasting.

“Nobody wakes up and wants to go to work in an abortion clinic,” Warnecke said of the workers she prayed for. “We hope that we can help others instead of turning to a life of regret and sadness and denial. A lot of women who have had abortions in the past live a life of denial.”

But Lucy Leriche, vice president of public policy in Vermont for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, disagreed with the group’s statement.

“That typically isn’t true,” Leriche said. “Numerous studies have been done that show a small percentage of women who may feel some regret, but overwhelming majority say they feel relief after getting an abortion.”

Warnecke said before she was saved by God, she had an abortion herself, and wishes someone had been there to advise her to give birth instead of having an abortion.

“I was that person 30 years ago,” Warnecke said. “I knew what I was doing was wrong. I had all the wrong resources, all the wrong people. ... My life ended that day. I hated myself.” The organization’s website claims they have “saved” over 16,000 lives, closed over 100 abortion health care clinics, and contributed to almost 200 abortion care clinic workers seeking alternative employment.

“(Health care centers) close because onerous laws get put in place, when government tries to get involved,” Leriche said. “I don’t think they can really take that much credit for it. I think it’s unfortunate because really they’re taking away a safe and legal option for individuals. ... They don’t know any of (the patient’s) story. They don’t know what’s best for them.” Leriche said less than 5% of patients access Planned Parenthood’s abortion care, and called the group’s claims “irresponsible.”

“Abortions are such a tiny part of (what we do),” Leriche said. “We’re in the business of compassionate care. (Abortion) is nothing that we are trying to expand or push upon. We work very hard in our contraceptive work. We will not judge them or manipulate them, or convince them to do anything they’re not comfortable doing. We certainly respect everyone’s choices to make decisions about their own bodies.”

Warnecke and Nickels cited the films “Gosnell” and “Unplanned” as enlightening films that demonstrated factual events that could serve to better educate the community about the “truths” of abortion care, including one case where an abortion care worker witnessed a live birth during an abortion procedure.

“That doesn’t happen,” Leriche said. “It’s just inaccurate information. It’s a propaganda film, is how I would characterize it, from what I’ve heard of (“Unplanned”). Gosnell is a convicted criminal. What he was doing was absolutely evil and criminal. This is not indicative of anyone who provides abortion care. If that’s how they’re trying to portray abortion care, that’s very extreme, very dishonest, irresponsible.”

While Warnecke said Planned Parenthood didn’t have to offer abortion health care, and continue to provide their other services — which include mammograms, STD testing, male health care and birth control access — Warnecke said abortion care wasn’t the only service she disagreed with.

“Birth control also stops life,” Warnecke said about one of Planned Parenthood’s other health services.

“If they want to avoid birth control ... they have every right to make that decision,” Leriche said, “That’s how extreme this group is — 80% of groups across the country believe birth control should be safe and legal.”

Leriche said the 40 Days for Life group didn’t seem to have a very strong base in Vermont, but she supports their right to freedom of speech and expression.

“Vermont is a tough state,” Warnecke said. “It’s a very liberal state, it’s very tough in government right now. But this is not a government issue, it’s a moral issue.”



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