“Texting” Driver Kills Dog – Severely Injures Woman – 5 Yrs Felony Conviction

“Texter” Kills Dog

Felony Conviction – Up to Six Months in Jail – Five Years Sentence Deferment Program – 1st Offense

An 18-year-old driver is due in court next week to answer allegations that she was text-messaging when her car struck and critically injured a woman walking her dog Sunday night on River Road in Colchester.

Town police officers have cited Emma Vieira of Red Oak Drive on suspicion of grossly negligent driving with serious injury resulting, Detective Sgt. Charles Cole said Thursday. Vieira is due to answer the charge Thursday in Vermont Superior Court in Burlington.

A conviction on the felony charge could bring a penalty of up to 15 years in prison and $15,000 in fines.

A woman who answered the phone at the Vieira home Thursday night said the family would have no comment.

Texting while driving became illegal in Vermont on June 1, 2010. At least 25 other states had similar prohibitions when the Vermont law went into effect.

During a period of about five minutes from when Vieira left her home and when she called 911 after the crash, Vieira had sent and received a number of text messages, Cole said. Red Oak Drive and River Road intersect off Porters Point Road in the western portion of town.

The injured woman, who was walking her dog, is expected to live, but doctors report that she has “life-changing injuries,” Cole said. He said Deborah Drewniak, 52, remained in a coma at Fletcher Allen Heath Care in Burlington and was undergoing more surgery Thursday afternoon.


Cole said Drewniak, who was wearing dark-colored clothing, received injuries “essentially from head to toes” when she was struck from behind. He said she was struck near the right passenger headlight, was thrown up onto the car’s windshield and rolled off the 1993 Honda Accord and landed on the road in the 9:30 p.m. crash.

A local garage owner, George McRae, examined the car and found it to be in proper working order with no defects that would factor into the crash, Cole said. Speed also did not appear to be a factor in the preliminary investigation, Cole said.

The speed limit on River Road is 25 mph. The location of the crash was not far from a street light but still dark, police said.

Drewniak’s chocolate Lab was killed in the crash, police said.

Susan Kehoe, a friend of the victim, said she hopes the incident will serve as a warning not just to young drivers but also to parents about the possible serious consequences of texting while driving.

Kehoe said many young drivers think they would face only a $100 fine for a first offense — if they get caught — and don’t understand the charge could become gross negligence if a person is seriously injured or killed.

She said drivers need to be more alert.

Colchester police continue to ask that anybody with information about the crash call investigators at 264-5556.

Contact Mike Donoghue at 660-1845 ormdonoghue@burlingtonfreepress.com.

Teen driver in
pedestrian accident
ordered not to drive
6:47 PM, Sep. 16, 2011|
A Vermont SuperiorCourtjudge on Friday
denied a request by Emma Vieira, 18, of
Colchester that she be allowed to drive
while awaiting trial in connection with an
Aug. 7 accident in which a pedestrian was
struck by her car and critically injured.“The court … believes the restriction is a
reasonable one in light of her lack of
driving experience,” Judge Brian Grearson
said. “Obviously, this is a serious case.”Vieira is facing a charge of grossly
negligent operation of a motorvehicle with
serious bodily injury resulting. The accident
left the victim, Debbie Drewniak, 53, of
Colchester, in critical condition with severe
brain and bone injuries.According to a police affidavit, Vieira’s cell
phone records show she was involved in a
texting conversation with a friend between
the time she left home and the time she
called 911 to report the accident.“Emma maintained that she was looking at
the road at the time of the impact but also
admitted she had been texting and using
her phone while driving just before the
crash,” a portion of the police affidavit
said.Vieira obtained her driver’s license only six
months before the accident on River Road.
The court ordered her to refrain from
driving as a condition of release following
her Aug. 19 arraignment in the case.Friday, Vieira’s lawyer asked Grearson to
lift the no-driving restriction so Vieira could
get to her own job at a fast-food
restaurant and provide transportation to
her mother, who has a disability, and a
preschool aged brother.The lawyer, John St. Francis, said the no-
driving restriction against Vieira was
unfairly punitive.“This accident took place on a poorly lit
road,” he said. “She didn’t see a person in
dark-colored clothes walking a dark-
colored dog with a black leash.”Chittenden County State’s Attorney Thomas
J. Donovan urged Grearson to reject St.
Francis’ request.Court Rules:

Some statements by
Colchester driving-
and-texting suspect
not admissible in
Colchester police should have read Emma
Vieira her rights before questioning her at
the station about the car accident that left a
woman seriously injured, a judge has
ruled.Vermont Superior Court Judge Tim Tomasi
said the two officers held Vieira in custody
during part of an interview Aug. 11, but
failed to read her a Miranda warning.
Therefore, the court must throw out any
potentially incriminating statements Vieira
made to the officers during that part of the
interview, Tomasi said.Vieira, 19, of Colchester stands accused of
texting while driving Aug. 7 when her car
struck Deb Drewniak and her dog on the
side of River Road. The impact put
Drewniak, 53, in a coma and killed the
dog. Vieira has denied the charges against
her.Tomasi ruled March 22 that Colchester
police Lt. Doug Allen and Sgt. Charles Cole
created a “police dominated atmosphere”
during the Aug. 11 interview with Vieira
and that a reasonable person “would not
have felt free to leave or terminate the
“At no time during or before the interview
of August 11 did either officer advise
defendant that she was not under arrest,
was free to go, or was not in custody,”
Tomasi said. “They did not advise her that
it was up to her whether to speak with
them or that she could terminate the
interview if she wished.”The following are some of the factors
Tomasi said contributed to establishing
police custody:Ö Allen told Vieira’s mother it was
“important” that he speak with Vieira that
day at the station.Ö The two officers interviewed Vieira at the
station behind a closed door.Ö The officers barred Vieira’s mother from
the interview. When she knocked on the
door, Allen opened it a crack and stood
blocking her view of Vieira.At a hearing held March 15 in Vermont
Superior Court in Burlington, Allen and ColeDefense Council Attacks Victim and her Dog in Deposition Questions “Does Your Dog Black Out?”http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20120419/NEWS02/120419018/1007/Lawyer-woman-driving-while-texting-case-told-curb-questions-accident-victim-Sept 5, 2012 Update  – Trial Venue Move Deniedhttp://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20120905/NEWS0214/309050010/-1/NEWS/Judge-rules-texting-crash-case-should-stay-BurlingtonFrom Burlington Free Press – Below….http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20121011/NEWS02/310110017/-1/NEWS/Plea-deal-ends-texting-while-driving-case

Conviction Paves Way for Victim To Recover Civil Damages

Emma Vieira’s texting-while-driving criminal trial took a sharp U-turn toward an unexpected ending Thursday.

As plans were under way for the Vermont Superior Court jury to make a nighttime visit to the scene of the crash in Colchester, a plea deal was struck with the teenager.

Vieira, 19, of Colchester could serve up to six months in jail or be sentenced to home confinement under the plea arrangement. She will be sentenced at a hearing in several months, likely after Jan. 1, the judge said after the deal came together late Thursday afternoon.

The victim in the August 2011 accident, Deb Drewniak, had this to say after the case was resolved: “I hope they shut their cell phones off and put them away while they are driving.”

Drewniak was in a coma after the crash. She now has trouble walking and talking, and can’t work.

Vieira pleaded guilty to the original felony count she faced — gross negligent operation of a motor vehicle with injury resulting — and will receive a five-year deferred sentence. It means Vieira will serve the five years on probation, and if she stays out of trouble, her felony conviction would be wiped off her record.

She originally had faced up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

As part of the plea deal, Vieira also admitted to a new, misdemeanor count of simple negligent operation that calls for the six-month sentence. The state is planning to ask for it to be served in jail, while the defense said it wants home confinement. The crime carries up to a 12-month sentence.

Vieira, her family and her defense team declined comment as they left the courthouse.

Chittenden County Deputy State’s Attorney Paul Finnerty said the victim’s family was satisfied with the end of the case.

It’s a fair outcome,” Finnerty told reporters, noting Vieira’s age and lack of criminal record. “It’s justice.”

Finnerty said the plea agreement was the same offer the state had offered continuously since December.

He said it was important for the victim’s family that Vieira enter guilty pleas and and take responsibility for her actions. Criminal cases involving injuries often end with a no contest plea, which allows for a resolution without the plea being used against the defendant in a civil lawsuit for damages.

Judge Michael Kupersmith noted there were risks on both sides by going to a verdict.

“I think it is reasonable under the circumstances,” Kupersmith said. He said it was possible that Vieira would be convicted and face up to 15 years in prison, but depending on the jury there was evidence that could also support a not guilty verdict, leaving her free.

Former Vermont State Police Detective Sgt. Robert Duhaime, an accident reconstructionist, had testified Thursday that there was “no way this accident was going to be avoided.” He said there was a combination of a poorly lit street and Drewniak in dark clothes walking her dog. He said based on evidence and reports, Vieira’s estimated speed was 27 miles per hour.

Plea negotiations headed off a planned field trip Thursday night for the jurors, who were scheduled to go after dark to the scene of last year’s accident in which pedestrian Drewniak was severely injured, and her dog was killed.

Kupersmith said he was somewhat disappointed that the Vermont Supreme Court would not have a chance to review some important issues that came up during the case.

Among those was Kupersmith’s ruling that blocked the defense from making any reference at trial to any impairment by Drewniak. Colchester Police reported Drewniak had a 0.099 alcohol level after being struck on Aug. 7, 2011. Kupersmith’s refusal to admit the blood test and other anti-defense rulings on Thursday drew the ire of Vieira’s lawyer, Sarah Reed.

Kupersmith also dealt the defense another blow at the start of the morning session when he said it could not introduce the video of the crash scene created by a defense expert reconstructing the accident.

After several rulings by Kupersmith against the defense — without the jury present — Reed, said, “I have the feeling I have been dealing with two prosecutors.”

She acknowledged she might get in trouble for the remark but felt she needed to speak up. Kupersmith did not take action against her, but noted rulings are based on research and past cases.

Changing her plea

The change of plea started to come together during a mid-afternoon break on the third day of testimony.

The defense did not plan to call Vieira to the stand and instead rely on Duhaime, who has served as an expert witness in both federal and state courts. He estimated he investigated about 2,000 accidents with the Vermont State Police and supervised or assisted at another 2,000 accidents. He also looked at another 1,000 since starting his private investigation business.

Just before the afternoon break, the two sides were squabbling over whether the state could challenge Duhaime’s findings that “there was no texting going on at the time. No phone calls,” he said.

“The phone was in her lap,” said Duhaime, a Middlebury College graduate.

Finnerty wanted to introduce evidence that Vieira had been on her phone shortly before the crash, but Reed said she had asked Duhaime about the phone being in use only at the time of the crash, not shortly before.

Finnerty maintained the defense had opened the door for his questions, but Kupersmith called for a recess mid-afternoon of the third day of testimony. During the break, the plea talks began to percolate.

By the time both sides had explained the details to the families on both sides of the case, it was about 4:55 p.m. before court resumed. Kupersmith questioned Vieira at length as to her understanding of the proposed plea agreement and her legal rights.

By the time he asked for her plea to the felony count, Viera’s voice cracked.

“Guilty your honor,” as Reed and her co-counsel, Jeffrey Messina flanked her and each placed a support hand on her back.

Under the plea agreement, Vieira will be required to take a defensive driving class and cannot operate a motor vehicle on River Road. She also was told she could not drive while talking on a cell phone or texting. She was told to have no contact with the victim and to cover any uninsured medical costs.

Kupersmith ordered a presentence investigation by the Vermont Probation Department.

The judge accepted the pleas while the jury was out of the room. He later summoned the jury to explain their work was over, but Vieira, her family and lawyers opted to leave. Finnerty remained behind to hear the judge tell the jury —11 women and five men including alternates — the case had been resolved. One juror asked the outcome.

Vieira remains free on conditions pending sentencing.


At sentencing, officer says driver remorseful after texting-related crash
Written by Matt Ryan Free Press Staff Writer
Jan. 07

At sentencing, officer says driver remorseful after texting-related crash

Emma Vieira, 20, entered into a deal with prosecutors on the third day of her trial in October. The accident left the victim with a traumatic brain injury and difficulty walking and talking.

The sentencing hearing for Emma Vieira, a Colchester woman accused of texting while driving and injuring a pedestrian, is under way in Vermont Superior Court in Burlington.

The first witness, called by the prosecution, was a probation officer who described Vieira as remorseful.

“She does show remorse towards what happened. … She does not feel she should be incarcerated.”

The probation officer, Clark Stever, recommended Vieira be jailed for 30 days, followed by home confinement and probation. The defense is arguing Vieira should be subject to home confinement and probation only.

Stever said Vieira had wanted to call Drewniak to apologize, but couldn’t due to the pending trial; Vieira was in therapy for four months following the crash.

The second person to take the stand was the victim, Deb Drewniak. Drewniak wrote a statement which was read to the court by her sister as Drewniak sat at the stand looking at Vieira.

In her statement Drewniak described her injuries, which included many broken bones and nerve damage. She has trouble walking and talking, she can’t drive, has double vision and will require additional surgeries.

“I am not able to speak normally. … I am not able to do anything w/o feeling pain,” she wrote.

Drewniak’s sister-in-law said she wants Vieira to serve time behind bars.

“The stress that this has put on our family … has been indescribable,” she said.

Drewniak’s brother also told the court he wants Vieira to serve jail time. He said Vieira had asked about sending Drewniak flowers, but the victim didn’t want them.

Vieira, 20, entered into a deal with prosecutors on the third day of her trial in October and pleaded guilty to one count of gross negligent operation of a motor vehicle resulting in injury. She had initially denied the charge.

Vieira also pleaded guilty that day to a new, misdemeanor count of simple negligent operation.

Both sides agreed that Vieira should serve a five-year deferred sentence on the original charge. The court agreed to wipe the felony conviction from Vieira’s record if she stays out of trouble during the five-year probationary period.

However, the deal also allowed the prosecution to argue at sentencing that Vieira spend up to six months behind bars on the new misdemeanor charge. The defense was permitted to argue for home confinement.

If the jury had decided the case and found Vieira guilty of the original charge, the court could have sentenced the defendant to serve up to 15 years in prison.

Police say Vieira was texting while driving Aug. 7, 2011 when her vehicle struck Drewniak and her dog outside Drewniak’s home on River Road in Colchester. Drewniak, now 54, sustained a traumatic brain injury and now has trouble walking and talking. Her dog was killed.

Hours after reaching the plea deal on Oct. 11, Chittenden County Deputy State’s Attorney Paul Finnerty said Drewniak’s family approved of the resolution. Drewniak said she hoped the case would compel drivers to turn off and put down their cell phones.

Vieira and her attorney, Sarah Reed, declined to comment that day.

Witnesses testified at the trial that Drewniak was wearing dark clothing and was standing on the shoulder of a poorly-lit stretch of road at the time of the collision.

During the trial, Judge Michael Kupersmith forbade the defense from referencing a Colchester police report that stated Drewniak had a blood alcohol content of 0.099 percent at the time of the crash.

The plea agreement reached in October also requires Vieira to take a defensive driving class and cover any uninsured medical costs that Drewniak might have incurred. The deal also prohibits Vieira from contacting Drewniak or operating a motor vehicle on River Road.

Contact Matt Ryan at 651-4849 or mryan@burlingtonfreepress.com. Follow Matt on Twitter atwww.twitter.com/mattryanhere.


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