Plea Bargain Angers Family: Man Pleads No Contest in Wreck That Killed 84-Year-Old
In a conference room, attorney Brian Marsicovetere, left, reads a statement from Timothy Farewell, of Enfield, N.H., after pleading no contest to negligent operation of a vehicle in Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt., on Feb. 26, 2014. Farewell was involved in a crash that killed 84-year-old Norma Sawyer, of Bridgewater, Vt. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »
On the right, Deanne Carvalho, walks back to her seat after giving her victims impact statement in Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt., on Feb. 26, 2014. Carvalho's mother Norma Sawyer, of Bridgewater, Vt., was killed in a car crash in Woodstock, Vt., in May. Windsor County victims advocate Pam Weigel stands beside her. Valley News- Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »
At the hearing's end, Timothy Farewell, of Enfield, N.H., wipes away a tear after pleading no contest to negligent operation of a vehicle in Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt., on Feb. 26, 2014. He was involved in a crash that killed 84-year-old Norma Sawyer, of Bridgewater, Vt. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck Purchase photo reprints »
White River Junction — An Enfield man will serve 10 days in prison and spend three years on probation after pleading no contest to misdemeanor negligent operation in a Route 4 collision that killed a Bridgewater woman last May.
Timothy Farewell, 47, wept throughout Wednesday’s 30-minute sentencing in Windsor Superior Court, but he declined an opportunity to address the court.
That was not the case for the family of 84-year-old Norma Sawyer. During a victim impact statement, a daughter of Sawyer criticized Farewell for what she perceived to be an unwillingness to take full responsibility for the incident, and she criticized police and prosecutors for their handling of the case.
“This was not an accident,” Deanne Carvalho, Sawyer’s daughter, said during the hearing. “Whatever it was that caused you to drive eight feet into mom’s lane was your doing and could have been prevented. You are entirely at fault. No one else.”
Carvalho said her mother was her best friend and that Sawyer loved to go dancing on Saturday nights, kayaking with her children and grandchildren and that she “probably would have outlived us all” given the chance.
At the end of the hearing, however, Judge Karen Carroll disputed the assertion that the crash that killed Sawyer was not an accident.
“We would be in a much different position here if there was any way the state could have proven that this was intentional behavior,” Carroll said. “We wouldn’t be sentencing Mr. Farewell on a misdemeanor if there were more facts in this case that supported a finding (of) driving gross negligence, or that he had a reckless disregard for the value of human life at the time, or intended his behavior.”
Prosecutors said they don’t know why the box truck Farewell was driving crossed the center line, and that had a bearing on the charges that could be brought in the case.
“The ‘why’ is really the key to any more serious charge,” Deputy Windsor County State’s Attorney David Cahill said after the hearing. “If we’re going to charge him with recklessness, we have to know why this happened.”
Sawyer was traveling eastbound on Route 4 toward Woodstock village just after 6 a.m. on May 16 when Farewell’s Carroll Tire Co. truck crossed the center line at a slight curve in the road and traveled fully into Sawyer’s lane. Sawyer died at the scene.
A driver can be charged with grossly negligent operation — a felony — if prosecutors can prove that the driver had an intent to commit a distracted behavior, such as using drugs or driving a car when the operator knows he is too tired to drive.
In this case, there was no evidence that Farewell fell asleep, Cahill said. And there is also no evidence that he sent a text or was talking on his cell phone immediately before the crash, he said.
But Cahill said that cell phone use wasn’t “positively ruled out,” meaning that Farewell could have been looking at his cell phone, even if he wasn’t transmitting data or making a call.
Negligent operation of a vehicle, the charge to which Farewell pleaded no contest, is a misdemeanor, even if it results in death, and carries a maximum penalty of a year in prison or a $1,000 fine.
Cahill’s explanation did little to quell the anger felt by Sawyer’s loved ones.
“I heard through the state’s attorney that Mr. Farewell felt bad for what happened, that he was upset,” Carvalho said of the plea bargain. “He should be. He killed an innocent person and he won’t tell us why. Does it make me feel any better? Not in the least.”
During the hearing, Cahill said the state was initially disinclined to accept the no contest plea and had pressed for a guilty plea. Prosecutors relented after seeing a letter from the attorney for Carroll Tire’s insurance company that Cahill said appeared to be “strong arming” Farewell into pleading no contest.
Sawyer’s estate has filed a civil lawsuit against Farewell and Carroll Tire Co., and the attorney for the insurance company essentially claimed that if Farewell pleaded guilty, it could deny coverage in the civil case, Cahill said.
The attorneys representing Farewell and Carroll Tire Co. in the lawsuit could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.
After the hearing, Farewell and his attorney, Brian Marsicovetere, met with reporters in a conference room, where Marsicovetere read a prepared statement.
“Mr. Farewell is a good person who is overwrought with emotion from this case. On a legal level, he is simply not able to comment,” he said. “Today, unfortunately, the victim’s families lost an opportunity to connect with him. We do not know where they are getting their information, but it is absolutely wrong.”
Farewell sat quietly at the table while Marsicovetere read the statement and declined to comment further.
Outside the courthouse following the hearing, Sawyer’s son, Don Sawyer, said, “Am I satisfied with it? No.”
The accident that killed Sawyer was one of four accidents that occurred on Route 4 in early 2013 that resulted in five fatalities.
In response, Gov. Peter Shumlin laid out a plan last summer to make improvements to the road, including adding rumble strips between the lanes and repaving. There are also long-term plans to rebuild the road and possibly redirect sections of it away from the Ottauquechee River.
The attorney who is representing Sawyer’s estate in the U.S. District Court, Barney Brannen, sat in the gallery for Wednesday’s court proceedings. Brannen said after the hearing that had Farewell pleaded guilty, the estate could have considered it an admission of liability in the civil action.
The estate’s lawsuit alleges that Farewell was negligent and Farewell and Carroll Tire Co., are liable for damages, although no monetary reward is specified.
Lawyers for Farewell and the tire company filed a reply to the complaint denying the estate’s claims and stating that Sawyer’s death and her family’s alleged damages were “caused by the intervening, superseding acts and conduct of others over which the answering defendants had no control, thereby precluding any recovery against them.”
The filing claims that Farewell was suddenly confronted with and forced to act in an “emergency situation” not created by Mr. Farewell’s own acts.
Sarah Brubeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3223.