CHARLOTTE — Vermont State Police said Thursday they are continuing to investigate what caused a 16 year-old driver to cross into oncoming traffic on U.S. 7 in Charlotte and kill an elderly couple in a head-on crash last month.
Isabel Jennifer Seward, 16, of Atlanta, Ga. was northbound on U.S. 7 when her truck crossed the double yellow line and struck a car carrying Chester Hawkins, 73, and Connie Hawkins, 72, of Ferrisburgh about 4:05 p.m. Sept. 8, state police said.
The case generated statewide interest after state police reported prosecutors tried to block investigating troopers from releasing the name of the teen-driver, a two-sport high school athlete.
The Hawkins had tried to take evasive action and pulled right toward the breakdown lane when Seward’s 2009 Toyota Tacoma slammed into their southbound car, state police said.
It is unclear whether cellphone use or distracted driving played a part in the grinding crash six weeks ago.
Police have reported they applied to a judge to obtain the standard search warrants in a fatal crash, including for the cellphone and cars.
Drugs and alcohol do not appear to play a part in the crash, Vermont State Police Lt. Robert Lucas said Thursday.
Chester Hawkins, a longtime Ferrisburgh official, including serving as town clerk, died at the UVM Medical Center, police said. Connie Hawkins died at the scene, police said.
Police and drivers normally have 30 days to file their written accident reports with the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles. As of Thursday afternoon the DMV reported it had not received all the documents.
Lucas, the state police commander for Chittenden County, said the initial written investigative report on the double fatal crash is complete, but it is in the normal process of going through departmental approvals before being shipped to DMV.
The Charlotte crash also has sparked a temporary gag order on Vermont State Police by Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling that overturned a longstanding state police transparency policy approved by the administration of Gov. Phil Scott. The state police policy was to ensure the general public had full access to public information about all persons involved in crashes and crimes, including names of children killed, seriously injured, abducted or reported missing.
After the Charlotte crash, state police said the office of Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George asked state troopers to withhold the name of the teen driver.
Two days later state police, after its own legal review and repeated requests for the information, released Seward’s name. They noted there was no reason to withhold it because Seward’s name is public through the state accident report.
Transparency advocates had argued it was public under the Vermont Constitution, the Vermont Public Records Law and the rules of the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles.
Schirling said both George’s office and defense lawyer Brooks McArthur, who is representing Seward in the crash, reached out the next day and asked him to intercede. That night State Police Director Col. Matthew Birmingham issued a memo noting a directive from Schirling to withhold names of teens killed or injured in crashes or involved in crimes.
State police said they would seek further legal review by Attorney General T.J. Donovan. Donovan said Thursday evening that he considers the name public record unless there is information at the time that the case is going to Family Court, which then would makes juvenile information confidential going forward.
Schirling said that was news to him. He said his office was told that the Attorney General’s Office had “an excessive workload.”
Nobody has said Vermont Family Court is considering the case.
George has said if charges are filed, she planned to bring them in Family Court and not criminal court. A Family Court prosecution would allow for the avoidance of a prison sentence.
George did not respond to a phone message seeking comment.