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Deal allows Vt. truck driver to avoid prison for fatal Lebanon crash

Special to the Union Leader

March 20. 2013 10:12PM

HAVERHILL - A Newbury, Vt., truck driver has avoided prison time for a 2011 fatality in Lebanon where a trailer broke loose from a logging truck he was driving and killed an Enfield man.

Brewster Thurston, 53, will have to find a new line of work, his attorney said Wednesday, and must pay nearly $30,000 restitution to the estate of Richard Rouleau as part of a plea agreement in Grafton County Superior Court.

Thurston had been scheduled to go to trial this month on a charge of negligent homicide, and a conviction on that Class B felony could have meant 3½ to 7 years in prison.

But Judge Peter H. Bornstein instead approved a plea agreement Tuesday between Assistant Grafton County Attorney Paul Fitzgerald, the prosecutor, and Thurston's attorney, Charlie Buttrey of Lebanon. Thurston pleaded guilty to vehicular assault, a Class A misdemeanor, for causing Rouleau's death by failing to properly maintain his 1996 Western Star logging truck and its trailer.

Bornstein sentenced him to 12 months in the Grafton County House of Corrections in North Haverhill, all suspended for four years during which Thurston must maintain good behavior. The judge ordered that his Class A commercial driver's license be revoked for seven years, but he can petition after three years to have it restored.

The restitution includes more than $14,000 for Rouleau's funeral expenses. Buttrey said Wednesday Rouleau's widow, Sandy Lea, gave her approval to the plea deal.

Authorities at the scene of the Feb. 17, 2011 crash said Rouleau - a 59-year-old Manchester native - was driving on Route 4 that morning near the bridge over the Mascoma River on his way to a job when he encountered the runaway trailer coming in the opposite direction and straight at his van. The self-employed tradesman had no time to react, according to police, before the impact knocked his van over, killing him instantly.

Thurston had just dropped off a load of logs that day and was on his way to reload, police said. He has not been available for public comment since the crash.

"He's haunted by this," Buttrey said Wednesday, regarding his client. "A day does not go by that he does not think about it."

Regarding the loss of the Class A license that allowed him to operate a logging truck, Buttrey said, "He's going to have to find a new line of work. This doesn't affect his Class B license; he can still drive a dump truck or a plow truck."

On the morning of the crash - which Lea described in an interview last year as "the worst, worst, day of my life," - she was also headed to work over much the same route her husband had taken, and passed the crash scene on her way. But she didn't see her husband's van, and didn't realize he might have been involved until she couldn't reach him by phone a bit later that morning. She then drove back to the crash site where police gave her the news. Records on file at the court show that during its investigation of the case, the Grafton County Attorney's Office found a history of safety-inspection violations involving Thurston's truck.

Assistant Grafton County Attorney Mary Bleier last year filed a report saying the same trailer had come loose from his truck in another incident that had occurred just several days prior to the crash that killed Rouleau.

Neither Bleier nor Fitzgerald returned messages left for them on Wednesday.

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