Bail Set for Driver In Fatal; Windsor Woman Died In Sunday Accident
Claremont — A pick-up truck was traveling about 80 mph in a 35 mph zone before it crossed the center line on Main Street early Sunday morning and struck a van in a fatal head-on collision that was captured by a State Police trooper’s dashboard camera, according to court documents released yesterday.
The trooper began following the truck after observing it operating erratically and at high speed in downtown Claremont, moments before the truck veered into oncoming traffic, killing a 42-year-old Windsor woman who did not have enough time to react, according to court documents .
Bail was set yesterday at $50,000 for the driver of the truck, Luke Garlinger, 29, of Massachusetts, who has been charged with negligent homicide and assault.
During Garlinger’s initial court appearance yesterday, prosecutors alleged that Garlinger nearly collided with New Hampshire State Police Trooper Brandon Dean’s cruiser moments before he collided with a van driven by Shellie Blaisdell.
She died at Valley Regional Hospital from severe trauma to her head and upper body. Her 14-year-old stepson Lakota Blaisdell, a passenger in the Pontiac van, broke both his arms.
After seeing Garlinger swerve across the center line at a high speed on Main Street, Dean turned around and began following Garlinger toward Vermont, according to records.
His emergency lights were not activated, Sullivan County Attorney Marc Hathaway said.
Shortly thereafter, Dean could see the headlights of Blaisdell’s van coming around a curve from the opposite direction.
The fatal crash was captured by Dean’s cruiser camera, according to court documents.
In Claremont Circuit Court yesterday, Hathaway asked that Garlinger, who does not have a criminal record, be held on a relatively high $100,000 cash bail, citing the “serious nature of the charges.”
But Garlinger’s attorney, Jeffrey Kaye of Methuen, Mass., said the amount requested was “totally excessive,” for a defendant who had no criminal record and who, Kayte asserted, was not a risk to flee. Kaye asked that his client be released on no more than $5,000.
“It’s a horrific accident — I’m not going to argue the facts of the case,” Kaye said. “(But) he does not pose a substantial threat to the public. He hasn’t been in any trouble. He may face the consequences, and he knows that. But, in terms of threat to the public, they haven’t established that.”
Judge John Yazinski essentially split the difference between lawyers’ requests, and ordered Garlinger held on $50,000 bail.
Hathaway also announced that he was dropping, at least temporarily, the assertion that Garlinger was driving under the influence at the time of the collision. The prosecutors said that authorities are awaiting results of blood tests.
According to a police affidavit, Garlinger’s uncle told police that Garlinger had been drinking before the collision, and officers smelled alcohol on Garlinger’s breath at the scene.
“We want to know what the (blood-alcohol) numbers are before we proceed with other charges,” Hathaway told Yazinski.
It is a significant distinction. The charge of negligent homicide carries a 7-year maximum sentence. However, a charge of negligent homicide while operating under the influence carries a 15-year maximum sentence.
Garlinger, of Mansfield, Mass., appeared yesterday via video conference from the Sullivan County jail in Unity, N.H.
Garlinger works as an electrician and has a wife and two young children, Kaye said, and was in Claremont visiting an aunt and uncle at the time of the collision.
Several members of Garlinger’s family attended the hearing but declined to comment outside the courtroom.
Blaisdell’s husband, Ralph Blaisdell, of Windsor, declined to comment yesterday, beyond saying that he had faith in the Claremont police officers investigating the case.
Blaisdell, who had three children and three stepchildren, had survived breast cancer diagnosed in 2009, according to her obituary. She was born in Ohio and grew up in California.
Mark Davis can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3304.