Editor’s note: This story was updated on Thursday at 11:55 a.m. with a photo and State's Attorney David Fenster's input on the case. This story was updated on Tuesday, Oct. 23, at 2:55 p.m. to correct Fenster's comment.
BRISTOL — Police are considering whether a medical condition was a cause behind the incident Saturday in which a driver of an SUV crashed into a group of people — sending five to the hospital — at a children’s soccer tournament in Bristol.
At approximately 10:05 a.m. on Saturday, a red 2012 Jeep Compass crashed into several parked vehicles before continuing onto a crowded playing field at Mount Abraham Union High School, where the 2012 Soccer Jamboree, a youth sports event, was taking place, according to Bristol police.
Bristol, Middlebury and Vergennes ambulance services responded to the scene and transported five individuals: an eight-year-old boy, a six-year-old boy, a 71-year-old man, a 37-year-old woman, and a 31-year-old man. Bristol Police Chief Kevin Gibbs said that more than one of those people was reportedly pinned under a vehicle. He said that none of the injuries was life threatening.
The 8-year-old boy and the 37-year-old woman remained in stable condition at Fletcher Allen as of Monday night, according to Gibbs. Their condition later in the week was not available. The other three victims had been treated and released from Porter Hospital.
Vermont State Police from the New Haven and Williston barracks along with members of the VSP crash reconstruction team assisted in the initial investigation and scene processing.
Gibbs indicated that the driver, Jeffrey Paronto, 31, of Hinesburg, had had a seizure.
Chief Gibbs initially declined to release the driver’s name to the press, citing concern for the driver’s well-being and safety.
“There is a notable degree of emotion involved on the part of some of the witnesses and victims,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs said in an email Monday afternoon that a VSP drug recognition expert told him that “the driver reportedly developed seizures some years ago and a benign brain tumor was suspected. That tumor was removed but the seizures continued.”
Vermont law states that in order for a person with epilepsy (a broad diagnosis that covers conditions marked by seizures) to retain a license, the person must submit a medical evaluation and may not drive for a period of six months after each seizure.
The trooper told Gibbs that Paronto had been medically treated for his seizures, and last had a seizure in 2008. The Burlington Free Press reported that Paronto had a valid license.
Gibbs said he would confer with Addison County State’s Attorney David Fenster about whether to press charges against the driver, such as negligence, but he indicated on Monday that he did not believe they had grounds for criminal charges.
“Until this one all the prior seizures occurred while the man was sleeping,” Gibbs wrote on Monday. “Investigation revealed he had been taking his meds as prescribed at the time of the incident.”
Fenster, when reached on Wednesday morning, indicated that he expected Bristol police to complete their case report and send it to him soon. He did not say whether we expected to file charges in the case or not. Bristol police did not return several calls for comment before press time on Wednesday.
Psychologist Matthew Kimble discusses how parent can help children and others cope with this trauma in a commentary here.
Editor’s note: Some readers have asked why we published the name of the driver when Chief Gibbs advised against it. After quite a bit of consideration we chose to publish his name for the following reasons:
We publish the names of drivers who are involved in other accidents, not as a judgment of whether they were at fault or not, but simply to put the facts out there; it is up to the police and state’s attorney to charge the driver with a crime or find fault.
In this case, the driver’s name is in the police report, which is a public record, so it was out there for any member of the public to find out already. If we withhold the name of the driver in this instance then it could have the appearance that we are trying to hide something.
We could have said in the story that we know the driver’s name but are not releasing it because we are worried about his safety or to protect him, but didn’t choose that option for two reasons. One, some readers will ask (rightly) why we are allowed to have the information but not share it with the public. Two, what would we be protecting the driver from — criticism for his medical condition? We truly believe that members of the public will have sympathy for the driver, not hostility toward him.