T­wo c­ars w­ere i­nvolved i­n a head­-o­n c­ollision o­n Rt. 30 n­ear t­he I-91 o­verpass b­ridge, in April. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer file photo)
T­wo c­ars w­ere i­nvolved i­n a head­-o­n c­ollision o­n Rt. 30 n­ear t­he I-91 o­verpass b­ridge, in April. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer file photo)
Thursday November 15, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- Leaning on a cane for support, Joe Chagnon said he did not feel animosity toward the man who broke his neck, back, leg, collar bone and ribs.

But make no mistake: The West Townshend resident was interested in seeing justice done nearly seven months after a violent Route 30 crash that nearly killed him.

"There are consequences which must be met," Chagnon said.

On Wednesday, 32-year-old Dustin North found out what those consequences are: He pleaded guilty to causing the wreck that injured Chagnon, and he immediately was sentenced to serve three and a half to seven years in prison.

The plea agreement was approved by Chagnon, the Windham County State's Attorney's office and Judge John Wesley, who said he hopes North can find a way to turn his life around.

"It is to your credit that you are standing before the court and Mr. Chagnon today to take responsibility," Wesley said.

North, a Brattleboro resident, was driving a borrowed Audi south on Route 30 just before noon on April 25. Other drivers were taking notice: A number of witnesses called 911 to report concerns about North's erratic driving, said Steven Brown, Windham County deputy state's attorney.

At the same time, Rick Kenyon of Brattleboro was driving north on Route 30 in a Volkswagen Jetta with Chagnon in the passenger's seat.

Less than an hour before, Kenyon had offered a ride to Chagnon, who was hitchhiking to Wal-Mart in Hinsdale, N.H. The two men, both musicians, struck up a conversation and, after leaving the store, they had decided to drive to the Newfane Cafe & Creamery for lunch.

They would not make it: North's car slammed into the Jetta near the Interstate 91 overpass.

North's passenger and Kenyon both were treated at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. North was arrested. And Chagnon was airlifted to UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Mass.

He would be hospitalized for 69 days, first in Massachusetts and then at Grace Cottage Hospital in Townshend. Along with this numerous broken bones, the 65-year-old also suffered a lacerated kidney and liver.

On Wednesday, he appeared in court and said his rehabilitation continues.

"I have gone home and continue to walk, and I experience, if not daily, at least weekly improvements in my condition," Chagnon told the judge.

Given a chance to address the court a few minutes later, North quietly gave a short statement: "I just would like to apologize to the victim for the injuries I caused and the difficulties I caused him."

He pleaded guilty to DUI serious bodily injury, a felony. He also pleaded to possession of narcotics, two counts of violating conditions of release and operating a vehicle in a grossly negligent manner.

Brown said North acknowledged taking methadone and Xanax the day of the wreck. Police also found THC, the intoxicant in marijuana, in his system.

The possession charge stemmed from morphine and Xanax found in the trunk of the Audi North had been driving.

And the other charges resulted from another incident the same day, after North had been released from custody on several conditions. Those included staying in Windham County and not driving.

"Within hours of his release . . . he chose again to get behind the wheel of a car," Brown said.

This time, North headed south toward Massachusetts with a female friend. North's driving was bad enough that the woman forced him to get off the road, Brown said.

"This case highlights the dangers posed by drivers who are impaired by prescription pills," said Brown, who also lauded the work of Brattleboro police Sgt. Mark Carignan on the crash investigation.

Defense attorney Chris Montgomery, representing North, asked that his client be recommended for a work-camp program in prison if he is deemed eligible.

North's record shows he is "not a person of violence," Montgomery said. "However, it does show a person who's had substance-abuse issues."

Wesley said he could not order North into such a program but would endorse the idea. He also commended Chagnon's "dignity" in court, given the severity of his injuries.

In an interview after the sentencing, Chagnon thanked his girlfriend and community members for assisting with his recovery. He also disclosed that, while he was hospitalized, North's sister had called him to apologize for her brother's actions.

"To me, that was really inspiring," Chagnon said.

In June, he and Kenyon reunited at Grace Cottage Hospital to play guitars and talk. Eventually, they finally made it to the Newfane Cafe for a bite to eat.

"We said, ‘We completed our trip,'" Chagnon said.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.