The criminal case of a man accused of killing a driver in a head-on crash in Elmore this summer will be handled by a new prosecutor, one who has expertise in highway safety and who will still be on the job next year.
Lamoille County State’s Attorney Paul Finnerty is handing off Colby Costello’s case to Heather Brochu, a lawyer whose job is funded through the Governor’s Highway Safety Program.
Police allege Costello, 27, of Wolcott was driving while under the influence of drugs and going at least 30 mph over the speed limit on July 20 when his car crossed the center line on Route 12 and crashed into a car driven by Dexter Thurston, 19, also of Wolcott. Thurston died at the scene.
Costello pleaded not guilty Aug. 29 to grossly negligent driving resulting in a fatality.
Finnerty lost his re-election bid in the August primary, so his days in the job are numbered. The new prosecutor — either Betsy Anderson, R-Stowe, or Todd Shove, D-Elmore — assumes the office at the end of January.
Barring a change of plea or sudden plea agreement, the Costello case will almost certainly continue past Finnerty’s tenure.
“There’s a lot of discovery,” or fact collecting, to do in this case, Finnerty said.
So, he’s handing the case to Brochu, the traffic safety resource prosecutor for the Governor’s Highway Safety Program. The program, part of the Agency of Transportation, promotes safe driving in Vermont.
The program funds two prosecutors at the Vermont Department of State’s Attorneys and Sheriffs. The funding includes training in impaired driving laws — whether it’s alcohol, marijuana, opiates, or other drugs — as well as open container laws, possession and cultivation laws, search and seizure laws, and others.
Finnerty said he has sworn in Brochu as a deputy state’s attorney, so she’ll have full prosecutorial authority in Costello’s case. Brochu used to be a deputy state’s attorney in Franklin County.
In his nearly four years as Lamoille County state’s attorney, Finnerty’s office has handled several car crashes in which one person was accused of driving impaired and someone else was either killed or seriously injured.
Two high-profile cases ended in criminal convictions. One woman, Kayla Languerand, served six months in prison after she rolled her car in Stowe and killed her passenger, and police determined she’d been drinking.
Another woman, Jessica Cantwell, was sentenced two weeks ago to serve at least a year in jail for a 2016 head-on crash that forced the retirement of Stowe’s town clerk, who suffered a traumatic brain injury. Cantwell had opiates in her system, police said.
Finnerty said his office is still proceeding with another case, in which Shelley Stevenson is accused of killing a woman in Johnson last year after a series of impaired driving offenses. She is also suspected of driving impaired.
Then there’s the case of a logging truck that slammed into and killed a couple from Connecticut in Stowe this summer. And his office hasn’t yet received any charges from another truck accident that killed a Morrisville woman in a snowy January crash in Cambridge. Neither driver in those cases is suspected of being impaired.
Finnerty said it’s unlikely he’ll be around long enough to see all those cases through to the end.