Inside the Lamoille County Superior Courthouse last Wednesday, a judge denied a special prosecutor’s request to require bail for a man accused of crashing into and killing 19-year-old Dexter Thurston in July.
Outside, nearly 50 protesters gathered to demand stricter sentencing and pre-sentencing laws in criminally negligent car crashes that kill people.
Colby Costello, 27, of Wolcott was in court to plead not guilty to driving under the influence of drugs in a fatal crash. That charge was added to the original single count of grossly negligent driving with death resulting.
Police say Costello had Suboxone and Xanax in his system at the time of the crash. They also say he was driving more than 80 miles per hour in a 50-mph zone, and may have been looking at his phone when he crossed the center line.
Special prosecutor Heather Brochu said Costello asked police officers at the crash scene, if he gave them information on something else, could they make it “go away.”
“He has said, from the get-go, ‘What can I do to get out of this?’” Brochu said.
Brochu said she has heard Costello has been spotted driving around, in violation of his court-ordered conditions of release. But she acknowledged she has no proof.
“I can’t say that he has. I can’t say that he hasn’t,” Brochu said.
Costello’s lawyer, Brooks McArthur, said it’s been months since the initial arraignment, and Costello is a lifelong Vermonter who lives with his grandparents and has appeared for all his court appearances, including Wednesday’s.
“There is zero, zero indication that he violated, in any way, his conditions of release,” McArthur said. “There’s also zero indication he’s been behind the wheel of a car” since his initial court appearance.
Judge Meghan Shafritz denied Brochu’s request to require bail, but she did impose a daily curfew of 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. Shafritz also ruled that Costello is required to remain under 24-hour supervision of his mother, even though he doesn’t have to live with her. His mother, who took the witness stand, said she and Costello’s grandfather have been making sure Costello takes his medication.
But Costello’s mother lives on a dirt road, off the grid, without access to internet or cellphone coverage, and some scoffed at her ability to monitor her son.
Outside the courthouse before the arraignment, nearly 50 people quietly protested the handling of the case and other cases of alleged impaired driving with death or serious injury resulting.
They carried signs that said things like “Justice for Dexter,” but also plainly worded pleas for criminal justice reform like “Max Sentencing When There’s Negligent Death Resulting” and “Treatment Abuse Screening Before Each Prescription Is Given.”
Vicky Thurston, mother of the teenager killed in the crash, was outside with the rest of them before the court proceeding, holding a sign that said “Justice 4 Dexter Crosby Thurston.” She expressed frustration that Costello hasn’t been held on bail, that he was getting off easy.
Vicky Thurston tearfully told WCAX News that “having a curfew with a person that is responsible for him that doesn't live in the same house as him makes absolutely no sense.”
“My son is not here,” she said. “My younger son doesn't get his older brother and we don't have our beloved son anymore.”
Outside the courtroom, Amy Gililan of Fletcher said the curfew doesn’t make a difference, either, since the car crash happened in late morning. She said she hadn’t heard that Costello has been driving, but wondered how the Department of Corrections would be able to tell, without some sort of monitoring.
Gina Petteys of Morrisville added, “Pretty much, he’s free to do what he wants.
“The biggest problem is that the court system has failed,” Gililan said. “His actions are one way. But the justice system, not taking seriously him killing someone else.”