Silsby pleads guilty to negligent homicide for 2009 fatal accident
|Diane Silsby of Lunenburg was sworn in by her attorney Mark Sisti on Wednesday morning in Coös Superior Court before she pleaded guilty to three class B felonies of negligent homicide in the July 3, 2009, deaths of her daughter, Nicole, her mother, Leona Dunn, and Rachel Metivier of Lewiston, Me., a passenger in another car. She used an Alford plea on these three charges, and she did not plead guilty to three Class A felonies of driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor. Those charges were dropped.
Edith Tucker. (click for larger version)|
January 12, 2011LANCASTER — Diane Silsby of Lunenburg, Vt., stood with her hands clasped together during a Wednesday morning hearing in the Coös County Courthouse in front of Superior Court Judge Peter Bornstein and three times replied "guilty" to Class B felony negligent homicide charges stemming from a July 3, 2009, triple fatal vehicular accident in Randolph.
The 42-year-old woman, represented by attorney Mark Sisti, took the plea offer made by county attorney Robert "Bob" Mekeel under an Alford plea. Defendants using an Alford plea do not admit the acts for which they are accused and continue to assert their innocence but do admit that sufficient evidence exists with which the prosecution could likely convince a jury to find them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Silsby did not admit guilt to the three charges of class A felonies of driving under the influence of intoxicating liquor.
She will likely be sentenced during the week of Jan. 31 to three concurrent sentences of 12 months, including counseling, in a women's House of Corrections, with her in-jail incarceration likely reduced for good behavior with some time to be served in her own home.
Silsby was initially indicted by a Grand Jury on Nov. 16, 2009, on six counts of negligent homicide, but the three Class A felonies were dropped — nol prossed — at the hearing.
Silsby's daughter, 15-year-old Nicole Silsby, and her mother, 83-year-old Leona Dunn of Lancaster, both passengers in 2007 Nissan Altima that Silsby was driving, died in the head-on accident on Route 2 near the Bowman height of land at about 5 p.m. on the start of the July Fourth weekend.
Twenty-six-year-old Rachel Metivier of Lewiston, Me., a passenger in an Explorer driven by her boyfriend, Christopher Caron, also of Lewiston, also died at the scene.
Driver Silsby, Caron, Caron's child, and Metivier's child survived the horrific accident.
It took rescuers an hour to extricate Silsby from her vehicle. She was severely injured and airlifted to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon.
Neither driver has any memory of the accident.
County attorney Mekeel reviewed salient testimony that would have been presented to a jury trial.
Silsby was driving west, returning from a shopping trip to Berlin-Gorham, which included lunch at the Northland Dairy restaurant. Only a few days prior to this, she, her then-husband Jason, and their two teenage children had returned to the area to live after her husband completed his military career.
State Police Trooper Amanda Johnson of Troop F found no evidence of alcohol consumption at the restaurant or any purchase at a state liquor store or any alcoholic beverage container in her vehicle.
Caron, who was seriously injured, did not have a valid Maine operator's license and was driving east from a trip to Clark's Trading Post and other tourist attractions. At first he gave contradictory testimony to the state police as to whether he was driving.
Medically trained personnel on-site did not detect the smell of alcohol on Silsby's breath after she was removed from her vehicle, although the helicopter pilot says he did detect the smell.
Routine lab work done at DHMC two hours after the collision recorded a 0.11 blood alcohol level.
One hour and 42 minutes later — 3 hours and 42 minutes after the crash — Silsby's blood alcohol level was measured at 0.03, however.
The state is troubled by the disparity, county attorney Mekeel said.
Silsby reported that she had consumed no alcohol but had taken cough and-or cold medicines.
Caron's blood test, drawn two-and-a-half hours after the collision, indicated the presence of amphetamines, cannabinoids, and Oxycodone.
Although the state police concluded that the accident was Silsby's fault, defense attorney Sisti arranged to have another report done by accident reconstruction expert and retired Concord police officer Carl Lakowicz of Northpoint Collision Consultants. Lakowicz concluded that Silsby's actions were consistent with evasive maneuvering to avoid an unknown highway hazard and that it appeared that Caron at the last minute had turned his steering wheel to the left into Silsby's oncoming vehicle.
Although witnesses said they saw Silsby's car cross the double-yellow line, at least one witness reported that Caron swerved his 2004 Explorer inappropriately toward Silsby's vehicle.
County attorney Mekeel told Judge Bornstein that he had spoken with Metivier's bereaved mother on Jan. 3 for an hour-and-a-half and that she accepted the plea as the best result that could be reached in the tragedy that had resulted in the death of her daughter. He also reported that he had spoken with Nicole's dad, Jason Silsby, who was recently divorced from Diane Silsby.
He told Mekeel that he is still angry at his former wife and believes that a two-year sentence would have been more appropriate.
Judge Bornstein meticulously reviewed with Silsby and her lawyer in an effort to ensure that she understood the use of the Alford plea process and understood the terms of the plea agreement and the various rights that she was agreeing to give up, such as confronting witnesses and to appeal.
Attorney Sisti said, "I think she is making a very intelligent decision here today."