BRATTLEBORO -- A Vernon man had alcohol in his system and may have been playing "chicken" just before causing a fatal, head-on crash in June, new court documents allege.
Edward L. Class III, 20, on Tuesday entered a not-guilty plea to two felony charges in connection with the June 8 crash that claimed the life of 22-year-old Tanya May of Readsboro. After his brief appearance in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division, Class was released on several conditions including orders that he not drink alcohol or drive.
Also released on Tuesday was a police affidavit showing that the other driver involved in the crash knew Class and believed he may have been playing a high-stakes game on the two-lane highway.
"Class suddenly swerved over into his lane and it was too late to react, and the vehicle struck his head-on," Vernon police Sgt. Bruce Gauld wrote, quoting the other driver, Andrew Bristol.
"Bristol told me that it appeared to him that Class was playing 'chicken' with him," Gauld added. "He also said that Class has been known to do this to his friends."
Police responded just before 8 p.m. June 8 to the area of 2363 Fort Bridgman Road for a two-vehicle crash. Gauld's affidavit says he found a white Jeep Cherokee and a gray Nissan Maxima, both with "extremely heavy front-end damage extending into the passenger area of the vehicles."
Class had been driving the Maxima, with May in the passenger seat. They were trapped in the wreckage and had to be extricated with the jaws of life before being transported by medical helicopter to two Massachusetts hospitals.
May died four days later at UMass Memorial Medical Center in Worcester, Mass. Class was hospitalized for an extended period; he walked with a limp during his court appearance Tuesday.
Bristol suffered relatively minor injuries. According to court documents, Bristol told Gauld he was on his way home from work and was driving south on Route 142 when he saw the northbound Class, "a friend of his," cross into the southbound lane.
A Vermont State Police accident-reconstruction team responded to the crash scene. The State Police findings, Gauld wrote, confirmed Bristol's story.
"The Class vehicle was headed north completely in the southbound lane when he struck the Bristol vehicle," the police affidavit says. "There were no indications that either vehicle had braked before contact."
A State Police investigation showed that, "if the Class vehicle had maintained his lane of travel, the crash would likely not have occurred."
The affidavit also presents evidence that Class had been drinking that day, though his estimated blood-alcohol level was below the state's legal limit for drivers.
A Vernon firefighter who responded to the crash "noticed a strong odor of alcohol coming from Edward's breath," court documents say.
Gauld's affidavit says he also spoke with Tanya May's husband, Kyle May, and Edward Class' brother, Jesse Class.
"They told me that Kyle and Tanya had been at the Class residence on Scott Road in Vernon," Gauld wrote. "Kyle (May) and Jesse Class were working on vehicles, and he said that 'Tanya and Eddie were drinking and talking.' Kyle said that 'Tanya and Eddie left in Eddie's car to go to the store.'"
Kyle May told police that his wife had an alcoholic drink in her hand as she departed.
"He told her she shouldn't be drinking in the vehicle, but she left with it anyway," the affidavit says.
Gauld reports that he found a "partially full open bottle of Mike's Hard Blood Orange in the passenger area of the Class vehicle."
Included in the Class court file is an analysis of his blood-alcohol level performed by the Vermont Forensic Laboratory in Waterbury. The document shows that a blood sample was taken at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass., at 10:25 p.m. June 8 -- nearly two-and-a-half hours after the crash.
Using a method "founded upon known principles of absorption and elimination of alcohol by the human body," lab chemist Amanda Bolduc estimated that Class' blood-alcohol level at the time of the crash was 0.063 percent.
Vermont's legal limit for drivers is 0.08 percent.
But Gauld notes that Class is under the state's legal drinking age. He also quotes Bolduc as saying that "alcohol begins to impair a motorist's ability to safely operate a vehicle with a BAC at or above 0.05" percent.
"Psychomotor impairment as it relates to driving has been studied at low levels of intoxication (BACs below 0.08)," Bolduc says in the police affidavit. "There is clear correlation between alcohol intoxication and diminished capacity (impairment) with observable effects at BACs at or above 0.05."
Gauld spoke with Class on July 22 but apparently didn't gain much new information.
Class "said he was more than willing to talk to me but that he did not remember anything about the accident," Gauld wrote. "He said the last thing he remembered was being at work, and then he woke up in the hospital."
Class was cited last week with DUI resulting in death and gross negligent operation resulting in death. Both are felonies carrying a maximum term of 15 years in prison.
In court Tuesday, Judge David Suntag imposed several conditions on Class while he is free pending further court action. Class cannot buy, have or drink any alcohol; he cannot drive any motor vehicle; and he cannot leave the state unless for a documented medical appointment.
Class' defense attorney, Evan Chadwick, did not object to those conditions.
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.