Alleged Driver in Fatal South Royalton Crash Pleads Not Guilty; Victim’s Mother Urges No Prosecution

  • Jeremy Potwin walks out of court after being arraigned on Monday, Aug. 7, 2017, at Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt. Potwin was arrested on Saturday after allegedly being involved in a fatal accident in Royalton on Friday night. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to

  • Jeremy Potwin

  • Roberta Staples, the mother of James Arbuckle, and her husband, Tim Staples, right, embrace Roland Potwin, center, after the arraignment of Jeremy Potwin on Monday, Aug. 7, 2017, at Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction, Vt. Police say that Jeremy Potwin was driving a car that hit a guardrail, killing 38-year-old James Arbuckle. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Valley News photographs — Charles Hatcher

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/7/2017 1:57:00 PM
Modified: 8/9/2017 4:35:47 PM

White River Junction — A 38-year-old Bethel man who is charged with leaving the scene of a fatal crash in South Royalton over the weekend has been convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol at least twice previously and has had his driver’s license criminally suspended multiple times.

Jeremy Potwin has a total of 14 misdemeanor convictions in Vermont, including operating a motor vehicle at an excessive speed and driving in a reckless or grossly negligent manner, according to court documents filed in Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction.

“The crux of the allegation is that this is a guy who never should have been on the road to begin with,” Windsor County State’s Attorney David Cahill said after Potwin’s arraignment on Monday. “These are entirely preventable tragedies. Nobody had to die this past Friday.”

Potwin pleaded not guilty to two felony counts of leaving the scene of a crash with a fatality resulting, felony gross negligent operation with a fatality resulting and misdemeanor driving with a suspended licence. He posted the $25,000 bail a judge set over the weekend, so he was released after his arraignment on several conditions, including a 24-hour curfew and that he not possess “a motor vehicle, motor vehicle keys or motor vehicle registration plates.”

Several relatives of Potwin and the crash victim, James R. Arbuckle, attended Monday’s arraignment. They sat silently through the brief hearing, but afterward they were vocal about their thoughts on the circumstances.

With tears in their eyes, Arbuckle’s mother, Roberta Staples, and Potwin’s father, Roland, hugged several times outside the courtroom.

Staples said she wished the state wouldn’t prosecute Jeremy Potwin, whom she referred to as another son.

“They all chose to get in the car,” Staples said. “I don’t blame anybody.”

Arbuckle, who also went by J.R., and Potwin have been friends for more than 30 years, she said. Arbuckle was the middle of her three children.

“It was an accident, and accidents happen,” Roland Potwin said.

Police allege Potwin was speeding on Back River Road in South Royalton around 9:30 p.m. Friday night when he lost control of a Toyota Corolla and crashed into a guardrail. The guardrail impaled the passenger side of the vehicle, piercing through to the trunk and severing Arbuckle’s leg, according to a Vermont State Police affidavit written by Trooper Jonathan Duncan.

Arbuckle, 38, died at the scene. Potwin suffered only bumps and bruises. A third person in the vehicle, 38-year-old Tyler Leach, also suffered minor injuries, according to police. Leach was sitting in the back seat behind the driver.

Police arrested Potwin at his residence on Saturday.

When police first arrived on the accident scene on Friday night, they accused Leach of being the driver, according to the affidavit, because Potwin allegedly had fled and Arbuckle, who already had succumbed to his injuries, was in the passenger seat.

After police handcuffed Leach and put him in the back of a cruiser, he said to an officer, “I can’t do this,” and identified Potwin was the vehicle’s driver, the affidavit states. Leach told police Potwin and Arbuckle had picked him up at a bar shortly before the crash.

Leach said he told Potwin to call 911 after the crash and that Potwin did place a phone call, but then a vehicle showed up and Potwin left, according to the affidavit.

Police set out to search for Potwin late Friday night and spoke with several members of the Potwin family, two of whom provided phone records that showed Jeremy Potwin had been in contact with them in the minutes before and after the crash was reported to 911, according to the affidavit, which does not state who reported the crash.

One of the relatives police interviewed was Roland Potwin, who told police he went to the scene of the crash after his son called him and his wife and asked them to call 911, according to the affidavit.

“Roland stated that he left because he was in the way of emergency vehicles,” the affidavit said. “Roland advised he told the defendant to stay there with his truck. Roland stated that he went and looked at the crash and when he returned the defendant was gone.”

Police interviewed several people to piece together the events of Friday night, including Arbuckle’s sister Linda Arbuckle, who told police her brother had been living with her in Royalton and that Tyler also had been staying with them, according to the affidavit. Tyler allegedly told Linda Arbuckle that Potwin had consumed one cocktail — a Long Island iced tea — on the night of the crash, according to the affidavit.

A message left for Jeremy Potwin’s attorney Christopher Dall wasn’t returned.

During the course of the investigation, police determined the Corolla lacked an up-to-date inspection sticker. Potwin’s license had expired and even if his license hadn’t expired, Potwin still wouldn’t have been permitted to drive that night, according to Cahill, the state’s attorney.

Potwin’s license was restricted, meaning he had to have an ignition-interlock device installed in a vehicle in order to drive it legally. According to the affidavit, the Corolla lacked such a device, which tests for alcohol on a person’s breath before a car will start.

A Vermont criminal record check shows Potwin was convicted of DUIs in 2003 in Orange County and 2007 in Rutland County. Potwin also was arrested on suspicion of DUI in 2005, but pleaded to a lesser charge, court documents indicate.

Potwin was convicted of driving with a suspended licence in 2004, 2007 and twice in 2013. He was charged with driving with a suspended licence in 2014 as well but he pleaded to an amended offense, according to the documents.

In addition to his criminal record in Vermont, he also has convictions in New Hampshire, according to a court clerk. Most recently, he was investigated in a road rage incident in Lebanon.

A New Hampshire State Police news release alleges that in January Potwin punched another motorist after a collision on the Interstate 89 Exit 20 off-ramp. The man to fall into the roadway, and he was hit by a passing tractor-trailer and suffered serious but non-life-threatening injuries, according to police.

The New Hampshire State Police trooper and sergeant who dealt with that incident weren’t on duty on Monday, and the status of that investigation couldn’t be determined.

Meanwhile outside the courthouse in White Rive Junction, Staples, Arbuckle’s mother, said her son had a 7-year-old child of his own, whom he loved very much.

“He was a good boy,” Staples said with a fleeting smile. “He was momma’s boy.”

Staples pleaded for people to stop casting aspersions on the Potwin family, who have come under attack on social media in the wake of the crash.

“Their son was driving. My son willingly got in that car. We are not trashing them …” Staples said. “So what gives anybody else the right?”

Potwin will next appear in the White River Junction courthouse on Sept. 19.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at or 603-727-3248.


Jeremy Potwin is due in Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction on Sept. 19. An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect date for his next hearing.

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