KEITH WHITCOMB JR.
BENNINGTON -- The family of a man shot to death by his friend on Thanksgiving Day 2010 has filed lawsuits against the owners of the home where the rifle was kept as well as the shooter himself, who is currently serving a year-long prison sentence.
In June, Nicholas D. Bell, 25, of Manchester, was sentenced to serve a year in prison for simple assault, and reckless endangerment, while a seven-year deferred sentence was placed on him for a manslaughter charge. Bell pleaded no contest to the charges in May.
According to police, on Thanksgiving Day two years ago, Bell and Jeffrey R. Charbonneau, 24, were at the home of the Goodwin family on Eagle Rise Road in Manchester where they were both staying for the holiday. Police said Bell took what he thought was an air rifle, but was actually a .22 caliber rifle, and shot Charbonneau with it as a prank. Charbonneau was killed.
According to a complaint filed in Bennington Superior Court Civil Division on Oct. 23 by Rutland attorney David L. Cleary, on behalf of Charbonneau’s parents, Richard and Betty Charbonneau, Bell negligently caused the death of their son and is responsible for damages through a wrongful death claim.
The filing contains a response from Bell himself. In response to Cleary’s claim "On or about November 25, 2010, defendant negligently caused the death of Jeffrey Charbonneau," Bell wrote "I accidentally caused the death of Jeffrey Charbonneau."
Bell is currently being held at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport.
Cleary filed a second complaint on Oct. 31, this one naming James Goodwin, Carolyn Goodwin, and James Goodwin Jr. as defendants. Cleary claims Charbonneau’s death was a result of the Goodwins not keeping a loaded firearm in a safe and secure manner. "At that time and place, the defendants and each of them had the responsibility to maintain the firearm in a non-lethally dangerous condition by either containing it in an unloaded condition, or by maintaining it in a locked and inoperable condition," Cleary wrote.
Both suits request compensation for damages to the Charbonneaus.
John Paul Faigant, an attorney for the Goodwins, filed a response to the complaint on Nov. 29. In it, Faigant denies the Charbonneaus’ claims and cites a number of defenses, one being that the Goodwins are not responsible for the shooting, as well as Chapter 1 Article 16 of the Vermont Constitution and the United States Constitution’s Second Amendment, which grant the right to keep and bear arms.