A Plymouth woman will spend one to three years on probation after pleading no contest to a charge that she caused a crash that left a Sudbury man dead and his girlfriend unable to walk in October 2017.
Nicole P. Auclair, 31, pleaded to two felony charges on Friday in Rutland criminal court, a felony count of grossly negligent driving resulting in a death and a misdemeanor charge of negligent driving resulting in a serious injury.
Auclair could have been sentenced to up to 30 years in jail, but the change of plea avoided a jury trial. Selection of a jury had been scheduled for the end of the month.
By email, Rutland County State’s Attorney Rose Kennedy, who prosecuted the case, explained the plea agreement she entered.
“While I do not believe Ms. Auclair needed to be imprisoned for her actions, I do believe she acted with gross negligence and that her actions were felonious. The plea agreement is largely rehabilitative and restorative in nature, but is also intended to provide general deterrence. I hope this case serves as a reminder to all (who) drive that even momentary inattention, especially at speeds over the legal limit, can have deadly results and cause irreparable harm,” she said.
Attorney Daniel Stevens, who represented Auclair, said he believed he could challenge whether Auclair should have been charged with a felony but told Judge Thomas Zonay she wanted to plead no contest to the felony charge.
“Nicole understands there’s nothing she can do to repair the harm from the accident, and her life will never be the same,” Stevens said after the sentencing hearing.
Police said the Oct. 22, 2017, crash happened on Route 4 near the intersection with East Mountain Road in Killington.
Auclair was westbound in her 2005 Volvo XC70 when she rear-ended a 2010 Volkswagen CC Sport being driven by Jacob Lyngdal, 20, of Orange, Connecticut. Police said the collision knocked Lyngdal’s car across the center line where it hit a 2005 Honda motorcycle driven by Michael Petralia, 79, of Sudbury.
Both Petralia and his passenger, Aishia Fox, 62, of Sudbury, were taken by helicopter to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.
Petralia died Oct. 27, 2017, and Fox’s injuries left her unable to walk without pain.
Auclair told police she was distracted while driving because she was watching two people in a cemetery. When she looked at the road again, Auclair said she saw the CC Sport but was unable to stop in time.
There was no indication that Auclair, who was not injured in the crash, was impaired, but evidence at the scene allowed police to conclude she was driving 57 mph in a 50-mph zone at the time of the crash.
Neither Petralia’s family nor Fox were in the courtroom Friday but Kennedy said they wanted to see the case come to a conclusion.
Fox and Joseph Petralia, Michael’s brother, provided statements to be read during the sentencing.
Fox described searing pain that was “unbearable.” She said she was awakened from an induced coma to be told about Michael Petralia’s death by his brother and sons. Because she was in intensive care, Fox wrote, she was unable to grieve and couldn’t attend Petralia’s funeral.
“Whatever happens to you, it will not bring back Michael or make my body whole again. I do not have it in me to forgive. I now have a life sentence of pain and being without the man I loved,” she wrote.
Joseph Petralia wrote about how he thinks about his brother every day.
“Ms. Auclair, know that when you took away my brother’s life, you ripped away a part of me. Your purpose and mission in life going forward, over and above any community service requirements the court may impose, must now be to do what you can as restitution to assist someone that needs help and make a positive difference in their life, thereby to ultimately have some good come out of this tragic event,” he wrote.
After Zonay asked Auclair what she would say to Petralia’s family and Fox, Auclair attempted to answer but seemed to have to stop because her tears kept her from being able to speak.