I-89 Crash Charges Upgraded
Lebanon — Prosecutors announced Friday evening that they have upgraded the charges against the Sunapee man involved in a collision on Interstate 89 earlier this month that killed a Wilder couple.
Robert Dellinger, 53, has been charged with two counts of second-degree murder for the Dec. 7 accident that killed Jason Timmons and his fiancee Amanda Murphy. Initially, he was charged with manslaughter.
Prosecutors have said Dellinger told police he was attempting suicide when he drove his southbound pickup across the median and into oncoming traffic on I-89 in Lebanon.
The truck collided with a vehicle carrying Timmons, 29, and Murphy, 24, who was eight months pregnant. The unborn girl also died in the wreck. (Under New Hampshire law, homicide charges do not apply to the death of a fetus.)
Dellinger, who suffered minor injuries in the collision, was arrested for the second time in a week upon leaving Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center on Friday afternoon, according to a news release. An arraignment on the murder charges is scheduled for Tuesday in Lebanon District Court.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Susan Morrell declined to elaborate Friday night on what led prosecutors to upgrade the charges.
The difference between manslaughter and murder relates to the suspect’s mental state at the time of a homicide. New Hampshire law considers a homicide to be manslaughter when a person “recklessly” kills someone, or kills someone under extreme provocation. Second-degree murder is when an individual “knowingly” causes the death of another, or causes a person’s death through recklessness and extreme indifference to human life.
Manslaughter is punishable by up to 30 years in prison. The maximum sentence for second-degree murder is life in prison.
Dellinger’s attorney, Peter DeCato, could not be reached for comment Friday night.
Meanwhile, records released by the Sunapee Police Department show that t hree days before Dellinger was involved in the collision on I-89, police responded to his lakefront home in Sunapee to assist an ambulance crew on what was described in the dispatcher’s log as a “medical call for ... possible hypothermia.”
When police responded at about 8:20 a.m. on Dec. 4, they were met in the driveway by Dellinger’s wife, Deborah, according to the log.
She “advised (that) her husband was suffering from symptoms of Ambien withdrawal,” the log stated. The log noted that the house was “comfortably warm.”
“(Dellinger) advised he was OK, just cold,” it said.
Ambien is a sleep medication used to treat insomnia. Dr. Adam Sorscher, a sleep medicine physician at the Dartmouth Sleep Disorder Center and the Alice Peck Day Sleep Health Center who prescribes Ambien to some patients, said the drug is not used to treat any other condition.
Sunapee Police Chief David Cahill said Dellinger’s son placed the 911 call on Dec. 4. Upon arrival, emergency responders learned that Dellinger had last taken Ambien two days earlier, and had called his doctor and was expecting to talk to him later in the day, according to the log.
Paramedics spoke to the 53-year-old former corporate executive and left without transporting him to the hospital, according to the log.
During his arraignment on manslaughter charges on Dec. 13, Morrell said Dellinger was despondent on Dec. 7 following a disagreement with his wife over his antidepressant medication. Morrell said the argument between Dellinger and his wife involved “some kind of bedtime curfew imposed with his doctor.” She did not identify the medication about which the couple argued.
Dellinger was released on $250,000 cash bail under the condition that he remain in New Hampshire. DeCato, Dellinger’s attorney, had fought that requirement because he said his client needed to attend doctors’ appointments in Kansas. (See sidebar.)
In June 2011, Dellinger resigned after less than two years as senior vice president and chief financial officer at PPG Industries of Pittsburgh. A separation agreement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission showed that the resignation “was due to health-related personal reasons and was not due to any disagreement with the company.”
In a phone interview Thursday, DeCato declined to discuss his client’s health but said he did not know about the medical call described in the Sunapee police report.
“I don’t know how much weight to give it,” he said.
On Friday, Morrell declined to comment on the incident.
Sorscher, the sleep doctor, said Ambien stimulates brain chemicals that are the chief regulators of sleep. He said the prescription medication received its approval from the FDA based on short-term studies, but is also used to treat chronic insomnia.
Ambien, or its generic version Zolpidem, has made news in recent years for people taking the medications doing things in their sleep that they don’t remember.
“There are reports of people who exhibit behavior in the night that they don’t recall in the day that follows,” Sorscher said. “... Usually these are innocuous like maybe taking a phone call in the night ... but sometimes, the behaviors can be more complex.”
Sorscher said that these types of behaviors are reported when people are taking the drug. He said he not aware of any cases where a patient who stopped using the drug would continue to have similar experiences.
But sleeplessness can sometimes return “in a worse way,” which can have some “real negative consequences for (insomniacs),” he said.
Most doctors and patients prefer to treat insomnia using other treatments before resorting to sleep aids such as Ambien, which can carry a risk of dependency, Sorscher said.
“If a person uses Ambien regularly over a long period, they probably will develop some dependence on it, meaning if they stop it, they are likely to have some rockiness. That is to say, they might have worse insomnia, at least for a period of days,” he said.
Insomnia, itself, can also cause problems, he noted.
“Most people feel crummy when they can’t fall asleep ...” he said. “We are just learning scientifically about the consequences of insomnia, but in general, when people don’t get good sleep, it affects their cognitive function and their physiological function.”
Sanofi, the drug company that makes Ambien, lists “depression” under its warnings and precautions for the drug.
“Worsening of depression or, suicidal thinking may occur. Prescribe the least amount of tablets feasible to avoid intentional overdose,” it states.
According to the Food and Drug Administration’s medication guide for Ambien, the drug is approved for short-term treatment of insomnia but does pose a risk for abuse and dependence.
Patients should tell their doctors if they have a history of depression, mental illness or suicidal thoughts, the FDA states.
The drug has serious potential side affects, the guide says. “You may get up out of bed while not being fully awake and do an activity that you do not know you are doing,” it says. “The next morning, you may not remember that you did anything during the night.”
According to the guide, reported activities include driving a car, or “sleep-driving,” as well as making and eating food, talking on the phone, having sex and sleep-walking.
Maggie Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3220.