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Jim Kenyon: Drug DUI Saga Ends

  • Valley News columnist Jim Kenyon in West Lebanon, N.H., on September 15, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

Published: 11/20/2018 11:45:09 PM
Modified: 11/21/2018 11:03:25 AM

Scott Pixley won’t pay a fine or lose his driving privileges — both were distinct possibilities after Hartford cops arrested him during a traffic stop in July.

On Tuesday, the 42-year-old Pixley agreed to a plea deal that for all practical purposes was a must for him to keep his job as a dishwasher and continue to care for his disabled parents who don’t drive.

In exchange for pleading guilty to negligent driving, Pixley received a deferred sentence that hinges on him staying out of trouble for a year.

If he avoids any encounters with the law during that time, his record will be wiped clean. If he doesn’t, he faces up to a year in jail, a fine of $1,000 and suspension of his driver’s license. (Even a speeding ticket could trigger a return trip to Vermont Superior Court.)

Is it a great deal? No. But under the circumstances it probably was the best Pixley could hope for — and certainly better than anything he would have received if Lebanon attorney Charlie Buttrey hadn’t been with him at the courthouse on Tuesday morning.

After I wrote about Pixley’s predicament in a Nov. 11 column, Buttrey offered to take the case pro bono. Strafford residents and friends also stepped up, initiating fundraising drives, including a GoFundMe account, to help Pixley and his parents who share a mobile home on the outer edge of town.

On the morning of July 31, Pixley was driving to the Walmart pharmacy in West Lebanon to pick up prescriptions for his parents before heading to work in Hanover.

According to a Hartford police report, a driver following Pixley on Route 14 began recording video of his vehicle and called 911 to report him for “erratic driving.” Shortly thereafter, a Hartford police officer stopped Pixley after reportedly seeing his Chrysler minivan “cross over the centerline.”

When asked, Pixley told police that he takes several prescription medications, including Effexor, a common antidepressant. He consented to a roadside Breathalyzer test, which showed a reading of .000 percent.

Still, Hartford police arrested him on suspicion of driving under the influence. He was handcuffed and taken to the Hartford police station. He later was evaluated by a so-called “drug recognition expert” from the Vermont State Police and transported to Mt. Ascutney Hospital in Windsor for a blood test.

Back at the Hartford police station, he waited for his sister to pick him up. (During the traffic stop, he was issued a ticket for driving without insurance, and his car was impounded. He said he didn’t have the money for insurance, but he has acknowledged that’s not an excuse. He paid a fine and now has insurance.)

It’s fair to say that the two columns I’ve written about Pixley have stirred an usually strong response. I think the story has resonated with people for several reasons:

■Pixley and his parents didn’t ask for help. I heard about what had happened through a Strafford couple who wish to remain anonymous.

■After not hearing from Hartford police for 2½ months, Pixley was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of drugs — after the blood test showed he had only caffeine and the antidepressant medication in his system.

■Pixley comes across as a hard-working guy who was doing his best to care for his elderly parents. He was having trouble coming up with money for heating oil this winter, much less pay for a lawyer.

Pixley’s story shows the “challenges facing the rural poor and how with doggedness they manage to keep things together day-by-day, if only just barely,” said state Sen. Mark MacDonald, who represents Strafford and was in the courtroom on Tuesday.

Last week, Windsor County State’s Attorney David Cahill changed the charge to negligent driving. Considering the result of the blood test, I’m not sure he had a choice.

As prosecutors go, Cahill falls on the progressive side. But he still pursued the case, if for no other reason, I suspect, than to placate the cops and law-and-order types.

Pixley​​​​​’s “driving that day was unsafe, and we hope that he doesn’t repeat it,” Cahill said in court.

The best thing to come out of the plea deal? Pixley must take a six-hour “safe driver class,” offered by the Hartford Community Restorative Justice Center.

If the concern of police and the State’s Attorney’s Office was indeed public safety (and not racking up a conviction), I’d argue the class requirement would have been sufficient. Forget the deferred sentence, which amounts to Pixley being on probation for a year.

Every plea deal has “risks and benefits,” said Buttrey, who praised Cahill for making an offer that his client could live with on Tuesday rather than dragging out the legal process longer than need be.

“I’m relieved that it’s over, but I’m a little nervous at the same time,” Pixley told me, referring to the strict conditions of the deferred sentence.

Some good has come of this. On Monday, Pixley took $500 from the GoFundMe account and used it to buy snow tires. A group in Strafford called Neighbors Helping Neighbors, which has been around for nearly 30 years, is paying for heating oil and pellets for the Pixleys’ living room stove.

Still, I worry that the ordeal has taken a toll on Pixley. His treatment — arrest, handcuffing and being hauled into court — seems completely disproportionate to whatever offense he committed. That’s a lot for anyone to handle, particularly for a person just trying to eke out a living and care for his parents.




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