Newport — A 25-year-old Unity man pleaded guilty on Tuesday to two charges stemming from a September 2015 incident in which he struck two pedestrians with his vehicle, killing one of them and seriously injuring the other.
Aaron Moeller accepted a plea agreement in Sullivan Superior Court in which he pleaded guilty to negligent homicide and reckless conduct with a deadly weapon. He was sentenced to 3½ to seven years in New Hampshire State Prison in connection with the crash that killed Christa Osgood, 44, of Claremont, and injured Kenneth Lavigne, now 47, of Newport.
Osgood and Lavigne’s relatives addressed the court during the hour-long hearing and spoke of the lasting impact Moeller’s actions will have.
“So many people’s very lives were forever changed in an instance on that September weekend,” said Christa Osgood’s tearful father, David Osgood. “For example, added to the unspeakable loss to our own family, Kenneth Lavigne and his family suffered unimaginable grief.”
Most affected, David Osgood said, are his daughter’s twin 14-year-old boys, who are now in the care of their grandparents.
“Not a day goes by that they do not fiercely miss their mom and the life they once had,” Osgood said, his voice cracking.
Julie Osgood recalled her sister as outgoing, energetic and a caregiver to many.
“(She had) infectious energy, a love and a light that drew people to her,” she said.
Osgood and Lavigne’s family wore handmade buttons at the hearing that had Christa’s picture on them and the words “Justice for Christa & Kenny.”
“I still have nightmares about the violent way that her life ended and that phone call that came in the night,” Julie Osgood said. “... We feel the pain and anguish and suffering of Aaron Moeller’s actions in our bones. His sentence will end one day. Ours will last a lifetime.”
Lavigne’s sister, Debra Searles, addressed the court on behalf of her brother, who was in the gallery. Lavigne suffered life-threatening injuries in the crash, including arm, leg and back fractures, broken ribs and collapsed lungs, and still suffers from the lingering effect of those injuries today, Searles said. He can no longer work and is on disability.
“Not only did this affect him physically and mentally, he lost his best friend and companion who he will never see again,” Searles said, noting that her brother and Osgood were on their routine Friday night walk at the time of the incident.
When given a chance to address the court, Moeller turned toward the gallery and expressed remorse.
“I am sorry,” said Moeller, a former Stevens High School football captain. “I would trade anything to take that day back and to ease the pain.”
Moeller initially faced four felony charges: Class A negligent homicide, reckless manslaughter, reckless conduct and aggravated driving under the influence. He pleaded guilty to Class B negligent homicide in connection with Osgood’s death and reckless conduct with a deadly weapon in connection with Lavigne’s injuries.
The reduced negligent homicide charge doesn’t carry a provision for impairment as does the Class A count.
Although officials say Moeller was driving under the influence of drugs at the time of the crash, that allegation was not addressed by the plea deal.
Prosecutor Jack Bell, a Grafton County attorney, said during court proceedings that Moeller may also have been distracted by his cellphone seconds before the crash took place.
If the case had gone to trial, Bell said he would have presented evidence that Moeller drifted off the edge of Charlestown Road, also known as Route 11/12, and actually hit Osgood and Lavigne as he steered his van back onto the roadway.
Bell called reaching a resolution to the case a “difficult negotiation.”
Moeller received a 3½- to 7-year sentence on the negligent homicide charge and a second identical sentence for the reckless conduct charge, with the second sentence suspended. Moeller faced a maximum possible sentence of 14 years in prison.
After serving 2½ years, Moeller can petition to reduce his sentence by six months, if he doesn’t commit any major infractions in prison. He has 89 days of pretrial credit. He must pay restitution to the New Hampshire Victims’ Compensation Program.
“This is one of those situations where no one can be happy,” Bell said. “The state believes it is not an ideal sentence, but it is a fair sentence based on what we have before us.”
Moeller had no prior criminal record.
Moeller’s lead public defender, Jay Buckey, called the sentence “appropriate.”
“You have accepted responsibility Mr. Moeller, and that is a positive thing,” Judge Brian Tucker said at the close of the hearing.
Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3248.