A man who police say was going 80-plus mph with opioids in his system when he killed a local teenager two years ago in a head-on car crash will serve three years in prison.
Colby Costello, 29, of Wolcott pleaded guilty Monday in Lamoille County Superior Court to a felony charge of grossly negligent driving resulting in a fatality. Costello killed 19-year-old Dexter Thurston, also of Wolcott, on July 20, 2018.
The collision happened on Route 12 in Elmore shortly before 11 a.m. Witnesses told police that Thurston and his girlfriend’s younger brother had been playing video games for an hour or so and were headed a mile up the road to the Elmore Store to buy a carton of milk. The crash happened about one-third of the way there.
Thurston was a 2017 graduate of Stowe High School. One of his classmates, Ethan Wehse, said reports that Thurston told his young passenger in the back seat to “hold on,” just before Costello crashed into them, were not surprising to him.
“That was Dexter, always helping someone else,” Wehse said.
Thurston’s parents, Wayne and Vicky, did not comment on Monday’s sentencing, but special prosecutor Heather Gray said their lives are forever upended “by the horrible actions of this man.
“They got a life sentence,” she said.
Gray said Costello’s sentence of 3-15 years with several years of probation when he is released from prison wasn’t the outcome she or the Thurstons hoped for. But, she said, it was the best offer on the table.
“I don’t think the victims were happy,” she said. “In cases like this, I don’t think there is a satisfying outcome.”
The state dismissed an additional charge of driving under the influence of drugs, but Gray said that did not affect the minimum-maximum sentencing guidelines. She said proving someone is under the influence of drugs isn’t as simple as proving someone is under the influence of alcohol, which is based on a straightforward baseline number.
A toxicology report showed signs of alprazolam, also known as Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug, as well as buprenorphine, also known as Suboxone, in Costello’s blood. Suboxone is an opioid that Costello told police he had taken a few hours prior to the crash.
The Thurstons and their supporters have protested certain aspects of the case, including then-Judge Meghan Shafritz’s denial of Gray’s request to require bail for Costello at his arraignment. A group of nearly 50 carried signs outside the courthouse 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.”
At the arraignment, Vicky Thurston told reporters, “My son is not here. My younger son doesn't get his older brother and we don't have our beloved son anymore.”
Gray said this week that, according to the most recent highway fatality statistics, every 48 minutes someone in the U.S. dies in a car crash. She said, given Vermont’s population, it has a higher rate of intoxicated driving than others.
“While these crimes have no intent, when you get behind the wheel, you’re driving a lethal weapon,” she said.