Driver in Rt. 103N crash pleads not guilty to two charges

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2022 Telegraph Publishing LLC

One month to the day after the crash that left Chester bookstore owner Vicki Thornton severely injured, Travis Stella, 27, of Wilton, Conn., was arraigned on charges of DUI-1 and grossly negligent operation with serious injury resulting in Windsor County Superior Court in White River Junction. Represented by attorney Daniel Sedon, Stella plead not guilty to the charges remotely.

Travis Stella

State’s Attorney Glenn Barnes asked Judge John R. Treadwell to impose conditions of release on Stella that included his not buying, having or drinking alcohol and not driving a motor vehicle in addition to contacting and having an appointment with a licensed alcohol and drug counselor.

Sedon objected to the driving ban saying that Stella does not have a poor driving record, that he does not have “a lot of infractions or violations,”  that Stella does not have a history of not following court orders and that he does not have a criminal record.

Sedon also said that Stella lives in Connecticut and needs to drive for his work as a supervisor for a “very large landscaping business.” The fact that Stella lives out of state also makes the condition unenforceable, Sedon said.

Judge John R. Treadwell

Judge Treadwell asked if Stella was under a civil suspension of his driving privilege. Sedon said no, but the civil suspension process had begun. In a DUI case in Vermont, the law enforcement agency that arrests a defendant sends a request for a civil suspension to the Department of Motor Vehicles. The defendant has seven days to request a hearing or the suspension is automatic.

The Chester Police Department issued a “notice of intention to suspend or disqualify” to Stella on the day of the crash, citing his alcohol level as .138 percent. In Vermont, an alcohol level of .08 percent is the threshold for driving under the influence, although drivers with lower levels may be charged with DUI if they are exhibiting signs of impairment. The notice, which was hand-delivered to Stella, says that he had until March 19 to request a hearing and, if he did not, his license would be suspended on March 23.

It appears that Stella did request a hearing since Sedon told the court that Stella still has a valid license, although a check of the court’s calendar found no hearing for a civil suspension in Stella’s case having been scheduled.

Barnes told the court that the last time Stella drove in Vermont, he did so in such a reckless way that he hit a guardrail, then swerved into oncoming traffic hitting another car. He went on to read a list of 11 fractures plus a concussion and collapsed lung suffered by the driver of the car Stella hit, although he did not identify Thornton, who owns Blair Books & More, by name.

Deputy State’s Attorney Glenn Barnes

“Given the carnage that ensued the last time Mr. Stella operated a motor vehicle, we believe that a condition seven (not driving a motor vehicle) is appropriate as the least restrictive condition to protect the public from similar significant harm going forward,” said Barnes.

Sedon proposed a condition that Stella not drive a motor vehicle after consuming alcohol as a compromise, which the judge accepted. No one questioned how Stella could drink alcohol, because that would be a violation of another of his conditions of release. A call into Barnes for clarification on this was not returned by publication.

The penalty under Vermont law for DUI-1 is not more than two years in prison and a fine of up to $750. For the charge of  grossly negligent operation with serious injury, the maximum penalty is 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000.

Stella attended the arraignment via Webex while remaining in Connecticut.

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