MIDDLEBURY — A former prosecutor with the Addison County State’s Attorney’s Office pleaded innocent on Tuesday in Chittenden County Criminal Court to charges of gross negligent operation of a motor vehicle and reckless endangerment. The charges stemmed from a Sept. 8 incident in which she allegedly drove up Middlebury’s Seminary Street for around 200 feet while her 8-year-old daughter was holding onto and running alongside the vehicle.
Teri Ames, 48, is accused of the misdemeanor charges. Ames used to be a part-time prosecutor with the Addison County State’s Attorney’s Office and focused on cases involving crimes against women. She left that job during the summer of 2011 in order to spend more time with her family.
According to a court affidavit filed by Middlebury police Office Kristine Bowdish, Ames was dropping her two daughters off at a ballet lesson in the Seminary Street area during the morning of Sept. 8. Police said one of the girls decided she did not want to go to class and made an attempt to get back in the van. But Ames, according to police, allegedly denied access to her daughter and began driving up Seminary Street.
“Ms. Ames knowingly drove her vehicle for about 200 feet while her 8-year-old daughter was holding onto the driver side door and running down the center of the roadway,” reads the police affidavit. “The child eventually let go on her own and Ms. Ames never stopped to check her welfare.”
Police said the child was not hurt during the incident. Police interviewed two individuals who allegedly witnessed the incident and went to check on the girl after Ames’ vehicle left.
One of the witnesses told police he saw the girl trying to get into the passenger side of the vehicle. As it moved forward and turned to head east, the witness alleged that the girl moved counter clockwise around the front of the van and grabbed the rear sliding door on the driver’s side.
“The door opened while the van was moving east on Seminary Street,” the affidavit quotes the witness as saying. “The little girl was still holding onto the door running alongside the van heading east.”
The witness alleged the girl ran about 200 feet holding onto the van door, then let go of it as it continued east.
“The van stopped at the stop sign and continued east with the door still open,” according to the witness report.
Witnesses said the girl then walked to the side of the road, crying.
Bowdish said she called Ames, who said she was “not having a good parenting day,” according to the affidavit.
“I asked Teri to come to the police station to talk to me and she said she was ‘very upset that this has become blown out of proportion,’” Bowdish wrote in her report. “She said she was not sure if she wanted talk to me and she would get back to me.”
On Sept. 13, Bowdish said Ames showed up at the Middlebury police station and dropped off a written statement about the incident.
In that statement, Ames confirmed that one her daughters had not wanted to attend ballet school that morning of Sept. 8.
“I made (her) get out of the van on the sidewalk,” Ames wrote. “When she started to get back in the van, I locked the doors. I told her that she needed to go upstairs to class.”
She said she pulled away from the sidewalk and soon realized that she was “running after the van because I could partially see her in the side-view mirror. I told her to stop and go upstairs. I was travelling very slowly, between 5 and 10 miles per hour.”
Ames reported she was “stunned” to see her daughter was still holding onto the door handle.
“I was afraid that if I did anything sudden, she might stumble and get hurt,” reads Ames’ statement. “I took my foot off the gas and told her to let go. Fortunately, she did. I told her to get out of the road. She did that too. I continued slowly to the stop sign. I could see that (she) was uninjured.”
Ames added she expected her daughter would go up to class when she realized she was not going to take her home.
“I was very upset by (her) behavior,” Ames wrote.
Ames said her husband went back to the scene “immediately” to make sure the girl was OK.
The case was transferred to Chittenden County given Ames’ prior employment locally as a prosecutor, Addison County State’s Attorney David Fenster confirmed.
Conviction on the gross negligent operation of a motor vehicle charge carries a potential penalty of up to two years in jail and/or a fine of up to $5,000.
Conviction on the reckless endangerment charge carries a potential penalty of up to one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
Ames was released without conditions following her arraignment on Tuesday. The court is scheduled to revisit the case on Oct. 31.
Reporter John Flowers is at firstname.lastname@example.org