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Vt. Man Pleads Not Guilty In Fatal Crash

Woodstock Resident Faces Felonies In Accident That Killed Best Friend

White River Junction — A 22-year-old Woodstock man pleaded not guilty Tuesday to allegedly driving his pick-up truck while intoxicated in an accident that killed his best friend as they returned home from a summer baseball tournament.

Justin Pierce is charged with driving under the influence resulting in a fatality and gross negligent operation of a vehicle resulting in the fatality of 22-year-old Jon Ferrero, of Woodstock. Each felony charge comes with a maximum of 15 years in prison.

Windsor Superior Court Judge Robert Gerety set a $10,000 unsecured appearance bond, meaning Pierce only has to pay it if he fails to appear at future court dates. Pierce was also told he can only operate a vehicle between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays for “verifiable employment.” Pierce listed his occupation as laborer/stone mason, according to court documents. Pierce must also submit to alcohol testing upon request of a police officer.

On Aug. 18, Pierce was driving home, with Ferrero in the passenger seat, after winning a championship baseball game in Walpole, N.H. The crash occurred on Fletcher Hill Road in Woodstock when Pierce’s gray Chevrolet pickup truck struck a guardrail, flipped and hit a tree before coming to rest in a brook, police said. Ferrero was pronounced dead at the scene.

When police arrived at the scene, an officer smelled a “very strong odor of intoxicating alcohol coming from Mr. Pierce’s breath and from inside the pick-up,” according to a police affidavit filed by Woodstock police officer Peter Mantello.

A blood test taken from Pierce and tested by the Vermont Forensic Lab estimates that Pierce’s blood alcohol level was about 0.16 percent at the time of the crash, twice the legal limit, according to the affidavit.

Neither Pierce nor Ferrero were wearing seat belts, according to a police affidavit, and Pierce was driving about 15 mph above the posted 35 mph speed limit.

At the crash scene, police found a blue and white beverage cooler in the embankment next to the pick-up truck. The cooler was empty, and there were several Budweiser cans strewn about the scene, according to the police affidavit. Police found 14 open and empty beer cans, as well as an empty metal flask and 15 unopened cans of Budweiser.

According to the affidavit, Pierce told police that the baseball game ended around 4:30 p.m. and that they started drinking soon after. Pierce also told police that he had about four or five cans of beer, according to a police affidavit. He told police that he was “slightly” under the influence of alcohol when he was driving home, according to the affidavit.

A preliminary autopsy report from the Vermont Chief Medical Examiner’s Office shows that Ferrero’s cause of death was due to injuries caused by the impact of the crash. Toxicology reports showed that Ferrero’s BAC was 0.20 percent, according to the police affidavit.

Pierce appeared in Windsor Superior Court on Tuesday with his family. Pierce wore a white dress shirt, blue jeans and brown shoes and stood next to his Norwich attorney, Christopher Dall, during the arraignment. Five members of Pierce’s family sat in the second row of benches.

After the hearing, Pierce, his attorney and family hurriedly left the courtroom. When asked for comment, Pierce greeted a reporter with a smile, but Dall stood in front of Pierce and said, “He doesn’t have any comment right now.”

Ferrero’s mother, Nancy Ferrero, did not attend the hearing because she said she was “over emotional” and t hought it would be better for her not to attend.

When Pierce was first cited last month, Nancy Ferrero told the Valley News that she does not want Pierce to go to prison. She said Pierce and his sister, Morgan, are like her son and daughter. Nancy Ferrero reiterated that sentiment in a phone interview on Tuesday. She has an appointment to meet with Deputy Windsor County State’s Attorney David Cahill next week.

“We hope to convey what Jon would have wanted or would want. That Justin be treated fairly,” Nancy Ferrero said.

When asked if prosecutors can take the wishes of the victim’s family into account, Cahill said, “I think we’re jumping the gun because the feedback I’ve received from family is about sentencing. We’re still at the guilt or innocent phase of this, and right now he’s still innocent.”

Pierce and Jon Ferrero graduated in 2010 from Woodstock Union High School together. Ferrero was engaged to Pierce’s sister, Morgan Pierce. Nancy Ferrero said there is no strain between her family and the Pierce family.

“I told (Justin’s mom) ‘whose pain is worse, yours or mine?’ ” Nancy Ferrero said. “I can put myself in her position. And if Jon had been arrested, I would be absolutely as devastated as I am for Justin.”

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.