The owner of the Devil’s Bowl Speedway is charged with holding three 17-year-olds at gunpoint for doing doughnuts in the parking lot.
Michael G. Bruno, 48, pleaded not guilty Monday in Rutland criminal court to eight charges stemming from the incident — five felonies (kidnapping, unlawful restraint, extortion and two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon) as well as misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment, aggravated disorderly conduct and reckless driving.
The kidnapping charge carries a potential life sentence. The other charges carry a potential combined maximum of 31 1/2 years. Bruno was released to the custody of his wife on $20,000 bail and several conditions, including that he observe a curfew when not at work. Judge David Fenster denied a prosecution request to hold Bruno without bail, but said he would set a 2 1/2-hour hearing for further arguments on the subject when time could be found in the court calendar.
Vermont State Police said they were contacted late Saturday by the teenagers, who said they were en route to the Crossgates Mall in Albany when they stopped at the racetrack to urinate in the parking lot. The youths said the driver did a doughnut and a half before they continued along Route 22A.
A short time later, according to affidavits, Bruno overtook them in his truck and pulled ahead of them, forcing them to stop. The teenagers said Bruno brandished a handgun and demanded their identification, then ordering them at gunpoint to return with him to the racetrack.
The trio complied, police said, and Bruno had the driver sign a contract pledging to return in the spring and repair the damage from the doughnuts. Police said they interviewed Bruno and he told them he had a gun in his pocket while speaking to the teenagers and then declined to answer further questions on advice from counsel.
In court Monday, Deputy State’s Attorney Lei Raymond Sun called the incident an extreme threat of violence in response to a minor property crime.
“The defendant could have very easily recorded the offending vehicle’s license plate and called the police,” he said.
Sun argued for Bruno, who had already posted the $20,000 bail following his arrest, to be held without bail, saying Bruno’s actions showed such a disregard for the law that it seemed unlikely he would abide by conditions of release.
Defense attorney Brian Marsicovetere, on the other hand, said there were inconsistencies to the three youths’ stories, including on whether Bruno actually pointed the gun at any of them.
“This was an incident that was blown out of proportion by three juveniles who were scared they were going to get into trouble for trespassing and destroying some property,” defense attorney Brian Marsicovetere said in court Monday. “They don’t even say specifically what the actual threats were. This gentleman was threatening to call the police on them, and that’s how we ended up where we ended up.”
On the bail argument, Marsicovetere pointed to Bruno’s extensive ties to the community, lack of any serious criminal record — aside from convictions in 2001 for excessive speed and disorderly conduct — and lack of any known history with the three teenagers.
“There is nothing in his background, nor has the state argued, that he’s likely to pose a danger to some random person in the community,” Marsicovetere said.
The judge ultimately agreed, though he said he would schedule the hearing to let the prosecution make its case against bail in greater detail.