Ielpi pleads no contest to two counts
BRATTLEBORO — Admitting he operated an off-road vehicle in a negligent and reckless manner, Andrew Ielpi, of Rockingham, pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges for his conduct that resulted in the death of Angelique Frost on May 22, 2016.
"At this time, [Ielpi] operated [a 2011 John Deere Gator] in a manner that was negligent, which means he failed to exercise ordinary care under the circumstances ..." read Judge John Treadwell, during a Friday morning hearing in Windham Superior Court, Criminal Division. "The negligence by [Ielpi] caused the vehicle he was driving to crash and caused Ms. Frost to be ejected and killed ..."
Ielpi could face up to two years in prison on the first charge of operating a vehicle in a negligent manner resulting in death and up to one year for reckless endangerment. Ielpi was originally charged with one count of grossly negligent vehicle operation resulting in death and one count of manslaughter.
"By driving the vehicle in this manner, [Ielpi] also acted recklessly, without regard to the possible consequences of his actions, ignoring the known, substantial and unjustifiable risk that his conduct would place Ms. Frost in objective, actual danger of death or serious bodily injury," read Treadwell from the stipulated fact statement and waiver.
"It's about time," said Rebecca Kemp, Frost's mother, at the end of the hearing. "That's all I have to say."
Ielpi's defense attorney, David Sleigh, declined to comment at this time.
According to court documents, Ielpi was driving a six-wheeled utility vehicle when, at the urging of Frost "to go get some air" over a culvert in a privately-owned road in Westminster, he lost control and crashed, throwing Frost off the vehicle and into a tree. Ielpi and his parents transported Frost's body to an urgent care facility in Bellows Falls only to find the clinic closed. They then drove to the Bellows Falls Police Department, where Frost was declared dead.
A waiver was required because the statute Ielpi pleaded no contest to didn't actually take effect until after the May 22, 2016 incident.
"You understand you could raise a defense that this statute could not be applied and would be a violation of your Constitutional rights and you are waiving that right?" asked Treadwell. Ielpi answered he understood and that he was voluntarily waiving that right.
After Treadwell read the fact statement, he asked Ielpi if he agreed with statement and whether he was responsible for the death of Frost.
"Yes, sir," responded Ielpi to that question and a number of other procedural questions.
Deputy State's Attorney David Gartenstein told the judge he believed the evidence that would have been presented at trial would have been sufficient to prove the pending charges beyond a reasonable doubt, "There is certainly a risk of the jury not agreeing with that analysis."
"The contest would be hard fought at trial," agreed Sleigh. However, Sleigh also admitted that there was considerable risk to his client that he would be found guilty if a jury trial was conducted.
Prior to the reading of the fact statement, Gartenstein noted that the Windham County State's Attorney's Office has had interactions with Ielpi over the past five to eight years. After the hearing, he declined to speak on those interactions, but noted the presentencing report would most likely take them into consideration. Gartenstein said that unless the defense objects, the nature of those interactions may be made public during the sentencing hearing.
Gartenstein told the Reformer that, as required by state statutes, the State's Attorney's Office has been in continuous contact with Frost's mother during the plea negotiations, and that "She understood the basis of the plea agreement."
"Nothing can bring back her daughter," he said.
Ielpi also faces a civil suit filed by Rebecca Kemp. She is seeking $3 million from not only Ielpi, but also his mother, Yesenia Major; his step-father, David Major; the owners of Milky Way Road, where the crash occurred; and the owner of the utility vehicle.
Gartenstein said the State's Attorney's Office is not involved in the civil matter being heard in Winham Superior Court, though it did come up during plea agreement discussions.
If Ielpi had pleaded guilty to the charges against him, rather than no contest, that plea might have had a binding effect on the civil matter. The no contest plea leaves that decision up to the civil court.
"I can't speak to whether the defendant's personal acknowledgment of responsibility here can also be admitted against him in the civil case," he said.
During the hearing on Friday, Ielpi pleaded guilty to three charges unrelated to the death of Frost. On Nov. 25, 2018, a Vermont Game Warden responded to a report from Putney that two men in a blue truck were driving up and down South Valley Road, shining a flashlight into the fields. The complainant told dispatch that she then heard a gun shot and saw the two men walking into the field to find what they had shot at.
Following an investigation, Ielpi was charged with taking big game by illegal means, carrying a loaded rifle in a motor vehicle and violating the conditions of his release for the two charges related to the UTV crash. Ielpi faces up to six months in prison and a fine of up to $1,000 on those charges.
Treadwell noted that though Ielpi had agreed to accept the plea deal, there was no agreement as to what sentence he might receive. Treadwell ordered a presentencing investigation be conducted by the Department of Corrections and said he expected a sentencing hearing would be held in 75 days or so.
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or email@example.com.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.