Building Bridges: From the depths of drug addiction, woman rebuilds her life

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BRATTLEBORO — Five years ago, Krystal Tyler's life was spiraling out of control. She was addicted to drugs, had lost custody to her two children, and was behind bars, an accessory after the fact in a homicide investigation.

"I drove the getaway car," Tyler told the Reformer. "I had a clean criminal record at the time, but I drove away. I was scared, high and drunk."

On the night of April 23, 2012, during a crack cocaine purchase gone bad, Robert Dougherty shot Abdul Clay in the parking lot of an apartment complex in Burlington. Clay died shortly thereafter in a hospital.

Dougherty eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 13 to 25 years in prison. His accomplice, Jason Bean, pleaded guilty to assault and robbery and was sentenced to six to 15 years in jail.

Tyler, now 32, was originally charged with first-degree murder and assault and robbery resulting in injury, which could have resulted in 27 years in prison. She eventually pleaded guilty to accessory to murder after the fact and faced up to seven years in prison. She was placed on parole and will remain on parole until 2020.

After her arrest, she spent two months in jail before asking to be enrolled in a drug rehabilitation program at Valley Vista in Bradford. She spent four months there before being transferred to the Phoenix House in Dublin, N.H., where she lived for six months. She eventually made her way to "a transitional living environment" in Brattleboro — Phoenix House RISE (Recovery in an Independent, Sober Environment).

"I didn't even know Brattleboro existed," said Tyler, who told the Reformer she got involved in drugs when she was in her early teens. "It was all I knew in life. It took me going to jail to see how bad my life had gotten. I never want to be in that situation again."

Bill Keefe, of Bill Keefe Landscaping in Brattleboro, was one of the first people to give Tyler a break upon arrival in town.

"People like Krystal just need a chance," he said. "She worked hard and advanced herself."

Keefe joked that he is not so much a landscaper as a guy who owns a business that specializes in giving people second chances. Just the same, said Keefe, it can be frustrating. "Not many people work out. In my line, after a while you don't want to keep giving people chances. You can get burned. But Krystal reminded me why I keep doing it."

Tyler started working for Keefe while she was living at the RISE facility on Linden Street. Keefe said he knew Tyler was going to work out because she walked the mile-and-a-half to work every morning and made it on time.

"She always had a good attitude," he said. "She was a really hard and good worker, even when she was going through some tough times. At the time she was giving testimony and she could barely keep it together, but she did."

During Tyler's time working for Keefe, he got to know her well and one thing was certain, he said: "She really felt bad about what happened."

Eventually, Tyler moved on to a new job, arranged by her parole officer, Lisa Trout, in Brattleboro. "She left me for the bridge," Keefe said, laughing. "And in December, a time when not too many people could survive that kind of work."

"Lisa [Trout] was talking with the office manager at PCL," said Tyler. PCL Civil Constructors and Figg Bridge Design were in the middle of a big project, building the new Interstate 91 bridge over the West River in Brattleboro.

"Krystal stopped in a number of times, but I wasn't hiring," Guy Lindblom, project superintendent, told the Reformer. "She kept banging on my door looking for a job so I took a chance and gave her the opportunity."

Lindblom started Tyler off as a flagger. Eventually she worked her way up to being a member of the drill rig crew that was drilling the shafts beneath the bridge's footers.

"I didn't know any of the tools," said Tyler. "I was scared of half of the equipment."

Now Tyler is a carpenter, building forms for poured concrete.

Lindblom said it's hard finding people who can stick with a job, but Tyler turned out to be one of his best hires. "She is an excellent worker. I've never had an issue with her. She's always there and she's very dependable."

Earlier this week, Tyler was transferred to North Carolina, where she is working on the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge, which links Hatteras and Bodie islands.

Meanwhile, Tyler is going to school for civil engineering. "I want to build bridges. It's cool."

Despite her successes over the past five years, Tyler is still in the process of building her own personal bridges — between her family and the two children she lost because of her drug addiction.

The adoptive parents of her son, who is now 14, reached out to her and said her boy was seeking contact with his biological mother.

"He was lashing out. He didn't understand," said Tyler. "Now we are going to therapy together. I'm working on me, on my relationship with my son and my family. It's coming around, but it's taking time."

However, she hasn't been in contact with her daughter, who was 2-and-a-half years old when she lost custody. "I hope to see my daughter some day," said Tyler.

Tyler said when she looks back on how far she has come since that awful night in 2012, she is immensely grateful to everyone who gave her a second chance.

"A man lost his life," she said. "I'm never going back that way again."

Among the people she credits for helping her get and stay sober include her counselors in rehab, the community she built while attending AA, her parole officer, Keefe and Lindblom, the adoptive parents of her son and the folks with the Vermont Agency of Transportation, which assisted with an on-the-job training program.

"I am a 4' 10" woman," said Tyler. "It doesn't take a big burly guy to do this type of work. You just have to show up and do it."

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160.


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