Driver Gets Home Confinement In Crash That Killed His Friend

  • Jeremy Potwin leaves Windsor Superior District Court in White River Junction, Vt., on March 1, 2018, after his sentencing. He pleaded guilty in January to three charges in connection with a fatal crash in South Royalton, Vt., in August 2017. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, March 02, 2018

White River Junction — A 38-year-old Bethel man who pleaded guilty in January to several charges in connection with an August crash in South Royalton that killed his childhood friend will spend the next 180 days on 24-hour home confinement.

Jeremy Potwin then will spend 60 days on a work crew. He was formally sentenced on Thursday in Windsor Superior Court to three to eight years, all suspended, except for 240 days.

Potwin, who expressed remorse for his actions, will remain on probation for five years.

“I apologize to Mr. (James) Arbuckle’s family for what happened,” Potwin said from the defense table.

“I’m sorry,” he said, adding that he will take steps to “make sure that nothing like this happens again.”

As part of his conditions, Potwin can’t drive for a year, and when he is able to, he must have insurance with large claim limits and have an ignition interlock device installed in the car he is operating, which tests for alcohol on a person’s breath before a vehicle will start.

Because of prior convictions, Potwin was supposed to have an interlock device installed in the car he was driving on the night of the crash, but he didn’t.

Police said Potwin was speeding on Back River Road in South Royalton on Aug. 4 when he lost control and crashed into a guardrail. The guardrail pierced the vehicle and impaled Arbuckle, who died at the scene, according to an affidavit.

A third person in the vehicle, Tyler Leach, suffered minor injuries.

Potwin, who has been convicted of driving under the influence at least twice before, fled after the crash.

In January, Potwin pleaded guilty to negligent operation, leaving the scene of an accident and driving with a suspended license.

Windsor County State’s Attorney David Cahill said on Thursday that he didn’t pursue a charge of gross negligent operation with a fatality resulting because the guard rail Potwin hit didn’t have an end cap on it.

“Although only Mr. Potwin is responsible for his decision to drive ... he was not responsible for the fact that he crashed into a guardrail that had a missing end cap,” Cahill said in court. “He drove into a guardrail that was primed to peel his car open like a can of sardines because it had a sharp end exposed.”

He added: “The splitting of hairs in terms of culpability led the parties to resolve (this).”

Back River Road is a town road; Cahill said he isn’t sure if the guard rail has been fixed.

Based on reports in the media, Cahill said he believed it was the wishes of Arbuckle’s family for Potwin to “not see the inside of a jail cell.”

Potwin’s attorney, Christopher Dall, said that was his understanding as well.

“(Potwin) knew Mr. Arbuckle for a 28-year period. They were really close friends,” Dall said, adding that it is not uncommon in cases where the victim’s family supports the perpetrator to see little-to-no jail time.

Arbuckle’s mother, Roberta Staples, said at a prior court hearing that she wished the state wouldn’t prosecute Potwin, whom she referred to as another son.

Potwin’s father, Roland, attended Thursday’s hearing along with many others.

Potwin has an extensive driving record.

A Vermont criminal record check showed Potwin was convicted of DUIs in 2003 in Orange County and 2007 in Rutland County. Potwin also was arrested on suspicion of DUI in 2005, but pleaded to a lesser charge, court documents indicate.

He also has several other driving-related convictions in both Vermont and New Hampshire, including driving with his license suspended multiple times.

Windsor Superior Court Judge Timothy Tomasi thanked Potwin for taking responsibility for his actions and “wanting to turn the page.”

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