A teenage driver has been fined $220 for her part in a double-fatal car crash that killed an elderly Addison County couple last September in Charlotte.
Public records show Isabel Jennifer Seward, who comes from a prominent Atlanta family, received a Vermont civil traffic ticket for an offense listed as “driving on roadways laned for traffic.”
Seward pleaded no contest to the civil traffic ticket and was assessed $220 by the Vermont Judicial Bureau, court records show.
They also show Seward’s mother paid the fine.
Seward, who turned 17 last week, provided at least 3 conflicting stories about her cell phone leading up to and after the crash near Church Hill Road on Sept. 8, according to the Vermont State Police accident report.
The second driver, Chet Hawkins, 73, who served the town of Ferrisburgh for 35 years in various posts, including as the municipal clerk, died at the University of Vermont Medical Center about five hours after the crash.
His wife, Connie Hawkins, 72, died instantly at the scene, police said.
Vermont’s chief medical examiner said both died from blunt trauma to the head, body and extremities.
Public records in question
The $220 ticket was disclosed by Vermont State Police in response to a public records request that sat dormant for about 40 days.
Vermont’s records law requires a prompt response – but allows up to 10 days for delays in special cases.
When no state police response was forthcoming, an appeal under the law was made to Public Safety Commissioner Mike Schirling noting that no response was considered a denial.
Hours later state police filed its response, redacting several parts of the civil ticket – including Seward’s name and hometown.
State police had issued a news release shortly after the crash with that information included.
The Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles also provided Seward’s name, hometown and crash details in the public accident report filed by state police.
The Vermont Judiciary also maintains Seward’s name and information are public.
Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan also has stated he sides with public transparency in the Seward case, but has yet to reduce his legal opinion into writing despite repeated requests from state police and others.
Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George became upset with state police for releasing Seward’s name two days after the crash. She wrote in an email to one of her deputies, “Unbelievable – why on earth would VSP not have contacted their freakin general counsel before releasing the name!??!”
State Police have said they relied on the department’s transparency policy and several legal opinions, including from both the Department of Motor Vehicles and ex-Public Safety Commissioner Thomas Anderson, who is a former U.S. Attorney for Vermont and the United States.
They also cited the Vermont Constitution, the Vermont Public Records Law and the rules of the Vermont Judiciary all side with transparency for public records.
State police, in its response, gave some indication that Seward might face some kind of legal action in Vermont Family Court as a juvenile, citing possible juvenile proceedings as one of the reasons it was withholding information.
Vermont Family Court has few options in juvenile cases. Vermont closed its juvenile jail last year. A judge could impose counseling or community service, according to lawyers and others familiar with family court proceedings.
The Vermont Department for Children and Families would be expected to monitor a juvenile long distance for the court, they said.
Under new Vermont legislation, since last July prosecutors are directed to send cases involving juveniles initially to Family Court, except for the most serious crimes. Once the case is at Family Court, the State’s Attorney is free to move it to adult criminal court, but needs to state the reason for the move is “in the interest of justice.”
Any adult court proceedings would be public.
George has declined to discuss the double fatal crash or her dispute with state police.
State police say they have a copy of a video showing the fatal crash. Evan Plankey, the driver behind Seward, had a video camera on his dashboard, recording traffic on U.S. 7. The video shows a small truck crossing the double yellow line on U.S. 7 in Charlotte and crashing head-on into a car killing the Hawkins, police said.
“The footage clearly shows vehicle 1 leaving its lane of travel, continue traveling north in the southbound lane of US Route 7, before colliding head-on with vehicle 2. There did not appear to be any attempt by vehicle 1 to correct its course prior to the crash,” Trooper Nate Quealy wrote in his preliminary crash report.
Plankey said his northbound vehicle was behind the Toyota Tacoma operated by Seward, who made a sudden 45-degree turn into the oncoming lane and struck vehicle 2 driven by Hawkins, the police report noted.
The area speed limit is 50 mph and Seward estimated for police she was driving at 56 mph, the report said.
Police have said it appeared Hawkins had steered right toward the breakdown lane to avoid the encroaching truck.
The crash happened at a well-known picturesque site. The two northbound lanes are wide and head gradually uphill, but they turn slightly left toward the top of the incline with clear views of Lake Champlain and the mountains in Vermont and New York. There is one southbound lane for the nearly two-mile stretch.
According to the preliminary independent state police investigation, Seward, who had minor injuries, provided at least 3 stories. State police said they include:
• Trooper Brad Miller noted Seward indicated her cellphone was face down on the passenger seat and she had both hands on the steering wheel at the time of the crash. After the crash Seward said she grabbed the cellphone off the passenger seat with her bag and also the camera that was on her lap. Seward said she was headed from her grandparents’ house in Vergennes to Burlington to buy a lens cap for her camera.
Miller said Seward later repeated the cellphone was on the passenger seat face down and still there when the crash happened. Seward stated she grabbed her bag before exiting the truck. Miller said he saw the bag with Seward’s wallet was still on the passenger floorboard in the truck.
• Charlotte Rescue personnel reported Seward indicated she had been texting before the crash, but not during the crash.
• Police said Seward’s mother, Laura Dickerman, at the hospital indicated she had asked her daughter about cellphone use and Seward reported the cellphone had been in her bag. The 2009 Toyota was registered to Seward’s grandfather, Dr. Joseph Dickerman of Charlotte, records show.
Seward also is the daughter of William J. Seward, a longtime high-ranking executive with UPS, according to his LinkedIn profile. Jessica Seward was listed as a student-athlete at The Paideia School in Atlanta, on varsity basketball and volleyball teams.
The Hawkins couple left a son, Charles of Ferrisburgh, and a daughter Cynthia Payne of Vergennes, along with two grandsons, three great grandchildren and nieces, nephews, an aunt, various in-laws and others.
Chet Hawkins spent 35 years as a municipal official in Ferrisburgh, wearing many hats in the Addison County town of about 2,700 people. The jobs included town clerk and treasurer, zoning administrator, first constable, collector of delinquent taxes and school district treasurer.
The Vermont General Assembly honored Hawkins for what it said was “his 35 years of exemplary public service” when he retired in 2014.
His wife was a longtime bookkeeper.