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Hartland Man Pleads Guilty, Is Sentenced in Fatal 2016 Crash on Interstate 89

  • Daniel Cowdrey, center, alongside his attorneys, Jamie Brooks, left, and Jeremiah Newhall, right, listens to Adam Koelsch speak on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, during the sentencing of Cowdrey at the Grafton Superior Court in North Haverhill, N.H. Cowdrey pleaded guilty to negligent homicide and aggravated driving under the influence in the crash that killed Ellynn Koelsch, 34, on the evening of May 26, 2016. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Ashley Wall speaks of her late friend, Ellynn Koelsch, during the sentencing of Daniel Cowdrey at the Grafton Superior Court in North Haverhill, N.H., on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017. Cowdrey pleaded guilty to negligent homicide and aggravated driving under the influence in the crash that killed Koelsch, 34, on the evening of May 25, 2016. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Daniel Cowdrey, of Hartland, Vt., gets taken away by court officers on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, after pleading guilty to negligent homicide and aggravated driving under the influence at the Grafton Superior Court in North Haverhill, N.H. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Daniel Cowdrey, of Hartland, Vt., wipes tears from his eyes while his sister speaks to his character on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2017, during the sentencing of Cowdrey at the Grafton Superior Court in North Haverhill, N.H. Cowdrey pleaded guilty to negligent homicide and aggravated driving under the influence in the crash that killed Ellynn Koelsch, 34, on the evening of May 26, 2016. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Ellynn Koelsch



Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 06, 2017

North Haverhill — A 40-year-old Hartland man who hit and killed a Rhode Island woman and injured her young son while driving the wrong way on Interstate 89 in May 2016 will spend at least the next five years in prison under a plea deal accepted on Wednesday.

Daniel Cowdrey pleaded guilty in Grafton Superior Court in North Haverhill to negligent homicide and aggravated driving under the influence in connection with the May 25 crash that killed 34-year-old Ellynn Koelsch and injured her then 4-year-old son near Exit 20.

Several of Koelsch’s relatives and friends made emotional statements in court and pleaded with Judge Peter Bornstein to impose the maximum sentence.

“I have spent one year, six months and 11 days revisiting the devastating events of that night over and over again in my mind. There are no words to fully express the heartbreak and emotional trauma that has plagued me,” said Koelsch’s best friend, Ashley Wall. “Ellynn’s life was so beautiful, full of compassion.”

Wall trembled as she retold what Koelsch’s son, Anthony, remembers from the night when Cowdrey left Peking Tokyo in Lebanon after drinking two large “scorpion bowls” and plowed into the Koelsch vehicle around 9 p.m.: Lights coming at him, loud noises and blood in his mother’s hair are a few of the horrific memories, she said.

“He had to sit strapped inside the crumpled sedan ... for 10 excruciating minutes for help to arrive,” Wall said. “I am haunted by this image.”

Koelsch’s mother- and father-in-law, Patricia and David Koelsch, asked Bornstein to impose not only the longest possible sentence but any additional punishment available to him.

“This wasn’t an accident,” they said. “The defendant had a choice to not drink and drive. Ellynn did not have a choice.”

Bornstein was confined by the capped plea deal that was reached ahead of the arraignment, though he did have the ability to reject it altogether, which would have put the case back on track for trial. Prosecutors pushed for Cowdrey to serve six to 12 years in prison with one year suspended, while defense attorneys argued for six to 12 years with 1½ years suspended.

A negligent homicide charge carries a maximum sentence of up to 15 years in prison. Cowdrey initially faced reckless manslaughter, a charge punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

Ellynn Koelsch’s husband also spoke at the hearing. He didn’t wish ill will toward Cowdrey, focusing less on the length of Cowdrey’s sentence and more on the length of sentences imposed in cases with similar facts in New Hampshire. He called them all too lenient.

“We punish it but do it to such a small degree that it allows for no deterrence,” a composed Adam Koelsch said. “I feel heartbroken that the system is the way it is, that deterrence isn’t something that is being fought for but instead the status quo is being held up. ... It makes sense why this stuff (drunken driving) is still happening.

“Just now we are quibbling over six months. My God. Six months,” he said, alluding to the six-month difference between the prosecutors’ and defense attorneys’ preferred sentences.

Adam Koelsch expressed hope that Cowdrey’s case might be the one to change the “status quo.”

He also urged Cowdrey to stand up and speak out against drinking and driving in an effort to prevent people from making similarly poor choices.

Bornstein adopted the state’s recommendation, sentencing Cowdrey to six to 12 years in state prison on the negligent homicide charge, with one year suspended if he remains of good behavior.

He also sentenced Cowdrey to 3½ to seven years, all suspended, on the aggravated DUI charge.

Upon release, Cowdrey must wait nine years before he can apply to get his license reinstated and, if he does, he must have an ignition interlock device installed for two years.

The judge said he considered several factors when accepting the plea deal, including deterrence, punishment, rehabilitation, Cowdrey’s character and his lack of a prior criminal record as well as the impact on the victim’s family.

“I am persuaded that the sentence proposed by the state is the minimum necessary to promote the goals of punishment,” Bornstein said.

Cowdrey did not speak during the hearing. Several of his family members and friends offered statements on his behalf, saying he is a hard-working man with no prior criminal record who made a “bad choice” that night.

His sister, Lisa Cowdrey, said Cowdrey has been sober since the crash and his mother, Sally Cowdrey, said he has attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings twice a week.

“There is no sentence that can be given to our son that is worse than the life sentence he has given to himself from the guilt and remorse that he feels for what he did,” Sally Cowdrey said. “It is something that he must live with for the rest of his life. We cannot go back.”

Various people testified that Cowdrey had several opportunities to not get behind the wheel on May 25 but chose to anyway. His co-workers, whom he had been drinking with at Peking Tokyo, spent an hour trying to persuade him not to drive, prosecutor Viktoria Kovalenko said. The state initially charged Peking Tokyo with overserving Cowdrey, but the charge was dropped.

When Cowdrey left Peking Tokyo, he entered onto the Exit 19 off-ramp on his way back to Hartland and collided with another vehicle. He didn’t stop and continued onto I-89, driving northbound in the southbound lanes. Had the case gone to trial, witnesses would have testified that they tried to get Cowdrey’s attention shortly before the collision, Kovalenko said.

Traffic court records show Cowdrey crossed the center line on Route 4 in Woodstock in December 2001 and collided with an oncoming vehicle driven by a pregnant woman, who suffered several broken bones and a lacerated spleen as a result. Cowdrey was fined for being the at-fault driver.

Ellynn and Anthony Koelsch were in Vermont that day to check out a preschool. The Koelsches were planning on moving with their ministry to the University of Vermont, according to a post on the West Bay Christian Academy’s Facebook page.

Now, her son is forced to move on without his mommy, Adam Koelsch said in his statement on Wednesday.

“I miss my wife a lot. I miss just the simple things,” he said, closing his eyes and pausing. “I hope that everyone walks away from here with a sense of hope that a lot of good can come from this in the midst of tragedy.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.