Man sentenced in 2016 UTV death
BRATTLEBORO — A local man will serve 60 days in prison and five years of probation for his role in driving a utility vehicle that crashed and killed his girlfriend.
"I am sorry to the family and I take full responsibility," Andrew Ielpi, 28, of Rockingham said during a sentencing hearing Tuesday in Windham Superior Court, Criminal Division.
Ielpi was initially charged with one count of grossly negligent vehicle operation resulting in death and one count of manslaughter for the May 22, 2016, utility vehicle crash that killed Angelique Frost, who was then 23. In March, he pleaded no contest to one count of operating a vehicle in a negligent manner resulting in death and another count of reckless endangerment. The first charge carried a maximum of two years in prison and the second carried up to one year.
Judge John Treadwell gave Ielpi 12 to 24 months of probation for the first charge, with 60 days from the sentence to be served in Southern State Correctional Facility. For the second charge, Ielpi received two to 12 months of probation.
Treadwell said evidence does not suggest Ielpi intended to harm Frost but his conduct has created a devastating impact and the sentence required a punitive component.
The judge included in the sentence conditions for Ielpi to enter mental health and substance abuse programs, participate in restorative justice programming and perform 200 hours of community service. He also ordered Ielpi to pay two $500 fines related to his taking a deer out of season last year and serve zero to six months of probation for violating conditions of release.
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.
Mark Kittel, an engineer who specializes in accident reconstruction and product failure analysis, suggested a part of the suspension system on the utility vehicle might have been deformed due to repetitive stress on the machine. Hired by Sleigh's office to investigate, he looked at photographs from the scene.
Wade Bartlett, an accident deconstructionist consultant retained by the state, disputed Kittel's suggestion. He said the damages were caused by a single event.
Deputy State's Attorney David Gartenstein said Ielpi had acknowledged his responsibility by pleading no contest to the charges.
"This was a crash caused by defendant's actions," Gartenstein said, adding that Ielpi was driving too fast when he jumped the culvert with neither party wearing a seatbelt. It was not an accident but "reckless disregard for someone else's life."
Gartenstein pointed to a history of troubling conduct described by Phillip Damone, supervisor of Brattleboro Probation and Parole. Damone told the court Ielpi had several motor vehicle violations in 2010 that led to his license being suspended and an accident in New York where he had lost control of a vehicle. Damone said in March 2010, Ielpi was in a vehicle that sped away from police and was left abandoned while still running.
Damone told the court Ielpi also had violated probation that year for consuming drugs and alcohol, and tampering with an electronic monitoring device. Damone said in December 2010, Ielpi "cut off his GPS and absconded to the state of New York," where he was arrested for shooting out glass in a storefront using a BB gun, "and it was reportedly gang related. And the defendant had on the same date, threatened the owner of the store."
Ielpi also was convicted of a felony in New York for pointing a gun at a police officer investigating the shooting, Damone said. From 2012 to 2014, Ielpi was reported to have 36 minor disciplinary actions in jail including possession of contraband and failure to listen, and 16 major disciplinary actions including disruptive and threatening behavior, tattooing and formulating a plan of escape.
Ielpi "is not a good candidate for probation supervision," Damone said. His department and the State's Attorney Office recommended a sentence of one to three-and-a-half years in prison.
"Those were actions of a young, immature teenager that I had been," Ielpi said. "My life is completely turned around."
He said he misses Angelique every day.
David Sleigh, attorney for Ielpi, said his client was not shirking responsibility and loved Angelique dearly.
"This is an accident, your honor," Sleigh said. It was not "dark hearted or evil."
Rebecca Kemp, Frost's mother, showed the court photographs of her daughter throughout her life. Frost "lost the most," she said. "She lost her life and a life she built with nobody's help."
Kemp described her daughter as someone who would help anyone, worked many jobs, read classic novels and loved music. She said losing Frost has been devastating; she has trouble sleeping and going to work.
"I don't go anywhere anymore," she said. "I lost my sunshine and will never recover from this."
Kemp spoke of the horror in seeing her daughter's face destroyed and not recognizable after the incident. She questioned Ielpi's decision not to call 911 after the crash and called for the court to give him the maximum sentence, saying that Angelique would want him to learn his lesson.
Frost "was an amazing soul," Kemp told the Reformer in an earlier interview. "She had a heart of gold."
Kemp said her family has been depressed by the death of Angelique.
"It hit a lot of people really hard," she said. "We've all kind of grieved together, held each other up. I just love her and miss her."
Others in court advocated for a more lenient sentence.
Wayne Adams of Londonderry said he relies on Ielpi, who has worked at his masonry business for the last six months.
"He's an asset to the business," he said. "He has a wife and baby who he's very proud of."
Adams described Ielpi as a dedicated firefighter.
Laurie Cullen of New York City said she has been in Ielpi's life since 2001 and spent time with the family after his father died saving people from the Twin Towers in New York City in the Sept. 11 attacks that year.
"They were very sad," she said. "They were young. Andrew was 10. Austin was about 3. Devastated. They were in the public eye."
Cullen said Ielpi is now married with a child.
"His evolution from the time I first met him to this time is powerful," she said. "He had a few road blocks but through those road blocks, I saw him get over the hump ... Now, he helps me through things. He's a man now. He's a grown man with a family, and he has pride and integrity. And yeah, I would say there's a huge transformation."
Kim Keefe, who worked at Bellows Falls Union High School in 2007, said Ielpi would spent a lot of time in the office talking to her about his sadness over losing his father.
"I also could see how difficult it was for him to be a person of color living in Vermont during a time weren't as kind as they are now," she said. "He also came to be known as the kid who lost his dad in 9/11."
Keefe described Ielpi as being there for her family during tough times. Frost's father Jed Frost similarly recalled Ielpi helping his family after Jed's mother died.
Jed said when he first heard about his daughter's death, he was "real mad" but then talked with Ielpi and came to understand what had happened.
"It was just a horrible accident and that's why it's called an accident," Jed said. "There's no sense in ruining two families."
Nichol Frost, Frost's younger sister, said she cannot be mad at Ielpi. She described her sister as a "free spirit" who was always kind. She said Frost would give people many chances, not because she was weak but because she had "one of the biggest hearts I've ever encountered."
Nichol said there undoubtedly was love between her sister and Ielpi. When he cried tears after her death, "I knew they were real," she added.
Nichol said her sister would not want someone to be jailed but to learn from their mistakes. She told the court Ielpi deserves to be around for his family and a sentence could show "there is forgiveness in this world."
"He's always been a kind person with a tough exterior and I believe he was devastated," Nichol said. "He has to live with this his whole life."
Reach staff writer Chris Mays at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.
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