Driver in ‘hero dog’ crash on I-89 guilty of driving under the influence, domestic assault

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-20-2023 9:01 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — A North Hartland man who was driving a pickup in a rollover crash that garnered worldwide attention for a rescue that police said was aided by his “hero dog” pleaded guilty last week to drunken driving resulting in serious injury as well as domestic assault.

However, one of the assault victims expressed frustration that the assailant, Cameron Laundry, will spend little time behind bars, saying the plea agreement approved by the court on Friday afforded “too much leniency” and “too much accommodation … all because Cameron is too fearful of jail.”

“It is not enough to simply take a class or a program. It is not enough to have probationary conditions; Cameron could have killed me and others. To me that warrants more jail time,” the woman said in a written statement that was read in court.

Prior to the deal with prosecutors, Laundry, 32, was facing a raft of charges — six felonies and eight misdemeanor counts — and not all were connected to the Jan. 3, 2022, crash on Interstate 89 that bought his notoriety.

In six different criminal complaints filed against him over the past three years in Windsor Superior Court, Laundry has been charged with aggravated domestic assault, domestic assault, driving under the influence, gross and reckless driving and petit larceny.

Under the plea agreement approved by Judge John Treadwell on Friday, Laundry pleaded guilty to one charge of aggravated domestic assault in the first degree, a felony; driving under the influence resulting in injury, a felony; and simple assault, a misdemeanor.

The simple assault charge stemmed from an incident six months after the rollover crash when Laundry punched and slapped a 28-year-old male roommate because Laundry complained the roommate’s phone was too loud and woke him up, according to the roommate’s written statement in support of the charge.

Laundry, who runs his own landscaping and excavation business, received concurrent prison sentences of six to 15 years each on the felony convictions and four to six months on the misdemeanor conviction.

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As part of the plea bargain, all other charges were dismissed.

However, the sentences were all suspended except for 30 days, of which 15 days can be served on a work crew and 15 days incarcerated. Laundry was granted permission to serve the 15 days of incarceration over five consecutive weekends.

At the same time, Treadwell placed Laundry on probation for 10 years, meaning that if he violates any of the numerous conditions imposed by the court he could find himself back in prison serving a lengthy sentence.

“You’re pleading to some very serious charges and you have a significant underlying sentence,” Treadwell said addressing Laundry. “Therefore it is in your very strong interest to comply very closely with the conditions of probation.”

“Yes, your honor,” Laundry acknowledged.

The truck passenger Justin Connors, 41, reached on Monday, said he had not heard about Laundry’s plea agreement and sentencing and declined to comment on it.

Connors said that he is scheduled to have a third operation since the crash “at the end of the month” to “take all the hardware out” including titanium rods in his legs and “putting in a new hip.”

Connors said he resumed working after the crash and had been out snowplowing client’s driveways after the heavy snowfalls earlier this winter.

“I can’t stop working,” he said.

Connors, of Norwich, suffered severe injuries in the crash, including a fractured skull, broken bones and has had to have a “metal rod put into his back and at least three surgeries,” Windsor County Deputy State’s Attorney Emily Zukauskas told the court.

“I am sincerely sorry for any hardships that I’ve caused,” Laundry said when it came his turn to address the court. “I’m a man that doesn’t give up and I look forward to the next chapter and getting on with a new life.”

Treadwell said that one factor he weighed in passing sentence was that despite a rash of felony and misdemeanor charges dating back to 2020, Laundry “has no prior criminal history.”

“The court recognizes that the plea agreement necessarily represents a balancing of interests, which a sentencing court may not necessarily share,” Treadwell explained in approving the plea agreement. “(But) the question for the court is not whether the agreement is one that it would impose absent the agreement but whether the sentence is one which falls within the range of sentences the court can find through its balance of the sentencing information … the court concludes the sentence provided is one which falls within the acceptable range.”

Among the conditions that Laundry must abide by is that he is to have no contact and stay 300 feet away from the two victims he physically assaulted as well as Connors, who was returning with Laundry from a dinner last year when he crashed his vehicle into a gully off Interstate 89 in White River Junction.

Connor and Laundry were ejected from the truck’s cabin. Connors’ dog, Grizzy, was killed in the incident; Laundry’s dog, Tinsley, was roaming along I-89 and rescue personnel said he alerted them to the truck in the gully, which could not be seen directly from the highway, although that account has been questioned by an eyewitness at the scene.

Police later clarified that troopers were already en route to the scene when New Hampshire police arrived and tried to catch Tinsley, who stood nearby while emergency crews delivered aid to Connors and Laundry.

Almost immediately after the crash, police charged Laundry with driving under the influence and causing serious bodily injury in addition to gross negligence in operating a vehicle resulting in serious injury.

The state trooper responding to the scene recognized Laundry from “prior law enforcement interactions,” she reported in her affidavit, and Laundry already had multiple charges pending against him in Windsor County, including an alleged DUI offense only eight months earlier when the same trooper flagged Laundry down after he was observed driving erratically on Route 5 in Hartland.

Four months before the crash, Laundry was charged with five counts of domestic assault — two of them felonies in the first degree — in connection a series of violent episodes, including biting the victim on the chin, putting a knee on her neck, pulling her around by the hair and causing a black eye, according to court records.

On Friday, in an impact statement read in court by a victim’s advocate, the victim said she initially thought she wouldn’t provide a public statement, but then determined: “I owed it to myself, my family, and anyone who might be in a similar situation to at least try.”

“When one bruise would fade, a new one would take place along my thighs, down my arms, on my neck, around my eyes. I was even worried that the head injuries could put me at a greater risk down the road for Alzheimer’s. ... There’s no way to describe the feeling of watching clumps of your own hair circling the shower drain after having it clasped in someone else’s grip (for) dragging you from one room to another or the reflection of someone else’s teeth marks into your skin as you look in the mirror,” she said.

Although the victim praised the prosecutor, Zukauskas, with securing a lengthy 10-year probation in the case, she had some harsh criticism for the State’s Attorney’s Office, which she said initially dismissed the assault charges because she hadn’t provided a sworn statement at the time but never informed her of the decision. She said she only learned about the status of the case when Laundry had texted her with the news and wanted to talk with her “when the dust settles,” she said.

“I like the certainty of the plea agreement, but I am on the fence about the resolution,” she said.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.

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