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Newell pleads innocent to felony charges in fatal crash

MIDDLEBURY — A Ferrisburgh man pleaded innocent on Monday in Addison County Superior Court, criminal division, to a felony charge of grossly negligent operation of a vehicle with death resulting, in connection with an April 20, two-car crash on Route 7 in Salisbury that claimed the life of Ripton resident Brian Kerr.
Shawn Newell, 33, was released without bail following his arraignment. Addison County Superior Court Judge Samuel Hoar imposed six conditions on Newell’s release, including that he not drive, nor have contact with any of the victims or witnesses in the case.
Newell faces penalties of up to 15 years in jail and/or a fine of up to $15,000, if convicted of the felony charge.
A Vermont State Police affidavit released following Newell’s court appearance alleges he was speeding and driving with a suspended license northbound on Route 7 during the morning of April 20, when he allegedly veered into the southbound lane of Route 7 to pass a slower vehicle. At that point, according to the affidavit, Newell’s care struck, head-on, an oncoming 2008 Chevy Malibu driven by Christina Walker and her passenger, Kerr — her longtime companion with whom she has three children.
Porter Hospital officials pronounced Kerr deceased at around 7:22 a.m. Vermont’s chief medical examiner determined the cause of death to be an aortic laceration, due to blunt force trauma of the chest.
Walker sustained a collapsed lung, a fractured kneecap, a fractured foot, damaged knee ligaments, and various cuts and bruises (see related story on Page 1A).
VSP Trooper Joshua Gurwicz interviewed Newell twice on the day of the crash, first at Porter Hospital and then at the University of Vermont Medical Center, where he was treated for “severe injuries to his lower extremities and torso,” according to court records.
Both drivers were wearing their respective seatbelts, according to court records, though Kerr was not, according to court records. Authorities found no evidence of either driver being under the influence at the time of the crash, according to police records.
Newell, according to Gurwicz, told authorities after the crash that he had been late for work at his job at D&F Excavating in New Haven, to which he was commuting from Springfield at the time. Newell was driving a borrowed, 2010 Mazda MZ3.
“Newell advised that he was passing a car when he saw (the Walker/Kerr vehicle) in the oncoming lane,” Gurwicz wrote in his affidavit. There was no traffic gap available for him to re-enter the northbound lane of Route 7, according to court records.
Newell told Gurwicz he hit his brakes twice in an attempt to stop, whereupon his vehicle began to slide in weather conditions police described as “cloudy and cold, with a wet road surface.”
“Newell advised that he and (the Walker/Kerr vehicle) decided to make the same decision to pull their vehicles into the southbound breakdown lane,” which culminated in the crash, Gurwicz’s affidavit states.
“Newell advised that he was the at-fault driver,” Gurwicz wrote in his affidavit.
Gurwicz interviewed Walker on April 28, while she was recovering from her injuries.
“Walker advised she remembered (Newell’s vehicle) travelling into her lane ‘attempting to pass four vehicles in the northbound lane,’” according to Gurwicz’s affidavit. “Walker advised that she had applied the brakes and drove to the right shoulder of the southbound lane in an attempt to avoid (the Newell vehicle), but was unable to avoid the collision.”
Walker told police she believed Newell’s vehicle was traveling “between 75 and 80 miles per hour before the collision,” according to court records.
Both vehicles sustained “catastrophic” damage and are being maintained as evidence at the VSP barracks in New Haven, according to court records.
“The primary cause of this collision was due to Newell engaging in conduct which involved a gross deviation from the care that a reasonable person would have exercised in that situation,” Gurwicz concluded, based on his investigation. “Additional contributing factors include: Newell failing to keep (his) vehicle in the right (northbound lane) of Route 7 and Newell travelling at a speed greater than was reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having no regard for the actual and potential hazards then existing.”
A status conference on this case is scheduled for July 17 at 8:30 a.m. at the Mahady Courthouse in Middlebury.

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