Man sentenced for pursuit, crash

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BENNINGTON — A 19-year-old Pownal man has been given a deferred sentence after admitting to fleeing a state trooper who was trying to pull him over in July.

The resulting pursuit ended in Austin Sousis having to be extricated from his truck and taken to the hospital after his vehicle left the roadway and struck a tree off Route 7.

Sousis pleaded guilty Monday to a charge of eluding law enforcement by negligent operation, a felony, and misdemeanor vehicle operation at excessive speed.

"I think most of the punishment here is what you've gotten yourself into," Judge David A. Howard told Sousis in Vermont Superior Court Bennington Criminal Division. "Serious charges, serious points on your license, loss of your vehicle and injury to yourself... I hope you can make better judgments now that you've seen what can happen."

Sousis was given a one-year deferred sentence for the eluding charge. For the excessive speed charge, he was fined $300. Under a plea agreement with prosecutors, a misdemeanor count of reckless or gross negligent vehicle operation was dismissed.

The deferred sentence means that if Sousis abides by the terms of his probation for a year, the felony charge will be cleared from his record. If he violates his probation, he could be sentenced up to the maximum penalty for the charge: Up to five years in prison, a $1,000 fine, or both. Sousis can petition for early discharge from probation in six months, but the state must consent.

Just before 1:30 a.m. on July 8, a trooper was driving north on Route 7 in Pownal when he clocked a truck traveling south at 64 miles per hour, above the posted limit of 50, according to a court affidavit. The driver sped up to between 100 and 120 miles per hour, at times turning the lights on and off, and at one point crossing a double yellow line before turning onto Jackson Cross Road.

The truck eventually left the roadway and crashed into a tree near Butternut Lane. The 1999 Toyota Tacoma was totaled. Sousis was extricated from the vehicle and taken to Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington for his injuries.

Defense attorney Frederick Bragdon said the deferred sentence would allow Sousis, who had no prior criminal history except for traffic citations, to keep a felony off of his record. Bragdon said Sousis had completed the state's Safe Driving Program.

Deputy State's Attorney Jonathan Ward called the agreement "a fair compromise." Noting Sousis' age, Ward said that he cooperated with police and "was shaken up." There's no indication that drugs or alcohol were involved in the crash, said Ward. Rather, it was "extremely poor decision making."

Both attorneys noted the outcome could have been different: The crash could have been fatal to Sousis or, if the truck hit another vehicle, another driver.

"I think he's well aware of the consequences and that he's pretty lucky to have come out without injuries," Ward said.

Reach staff writer Edward Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111 or @edamon_banner.

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