Passersby pulls two men from fiery crash in Vernon; driver faces numerous charges

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VERNON — The driver of a car that crashed and caught fire on Route 142 on Friday evening is facing numerous charges.

According to a press release from the Windham County Sheriff's Office, Christopher P. Lessard, 25, of Claremont, N.H., has been cited with driving under the influence, gross negligent operation and reckless endangerment.

Lessard and his passenger, Evan J. Kennett, 25, also of Claremont, were rescued from the crash by passersby after the vehicle left the roadway and burst into flames near Pond Road in Vernon around 6:30 p.m.

"The vehicle was fully engulfed within three minutes after the crash," Vernon Fire Chief Todd Capen told the Reformer on Saturday. Capen said the two occupants of the vehicle were removed before emergency responders arrived.

"Several people had dragged the first person out and then the fire spread. They got the fire down some and then removed the second person," Capen said.

According to Amos Putnam, a witness, after the vehicle left the road, it crashed into a tree and caught fire.

"I was with two other people down by the Post Office in Vernon when we saw the vehicle go by and then crash," said Putnam. "I called 911 and a guy in a yellow shirt was one of the first on the scene. He got a fire extinguisher from a sheriff's deputy and was trying to put the fire out. Several people had dragged the first person out and then the fire spread. They got the fire down some and then removed the second person."

Putnam said he counted four people pulling the two men from the vehicle.

The crash was investigated by Sheriff Keith Clark and a number of his deputies, including Deputy First Class Ian Tuttle, Deputy David Upton, Sgt. Dana Shepard, Deputy Joshua Parro, and Deputy Gabrielle Cornellier.

The Sheriff's Office first learned of Lessard's activity when it received a report that a Toyota pickup truck was "all over the road" headed southbound on Fort Bridgman Road near the area commonly known as the "Witches Gutter."

While attempting to locate the vehicle, Windham County Dispatch received an update from the original caller saying that the Toyota was now down at the Vernon Dam and the operator had almost hit people on the beach with his vehicle.

The caller told dispatch of an attempt to stop the Toyota out of concern for a small child that was almost hit on the beach area. The operator did not stop, leaving the area of the dam and traveling south on Governor Hunt Road before turning north onto Route 142.

Lessard eventually lost control of the vehicle crashing near the Vernon Town Highway Department. After crashing, the vehicle burst into flames. The operator was pulled from the vehicle by witnesses, but the passenger was trapped by the flames. According to the press release from the Sheriff's Office, Upton used his fire extinguisher to help knock down the flames long enough for Kennett to be pulled from the car.

Lessard was transported to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital for treatment of non-life threatening injuries and later released.

Kennett was first taken to BMH for treatment before being flown by helicopter to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, N.H.. During the crash Kennett received serious injuries that were later determined to be non-life threatening.

The Vermont State Police Crash Reconstruction Team was called to the scene to conduct measurements and calculations. The Windham County Sheriff's Office was assisted by the Brattleboro Police Department, the Brattleboro Fire Department, Rescue Inc, the Vermont State Police, the Vernon Fire Department, Al's Towing and Recovery, and several Good Samaritans.

Anyone with information regarding this incident is asked to contact Deputy Ian Tuttle at 802-365-4942.

Harmony Birch can be contacted at hbirch@reformer.com. Kris Radder can be contacted at kradder@reformer.com


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