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Wednesday March 3, 2010

BENNINGTON -- A woman involved in an April crash on Route 7 that caused a woman to lose her twin fetuses pleaded guilty Wednesday in Bennington District Court to grossly negligent vehicle operation with an injury resulting.

Kelly Cook, 22, of Pownal, pleaded guilty to two felony counts of grossly negligent vehicle operation with an injury resulting and one misdemeanor count of possession of a depressant.

A felony charge of driving under the influence of a drug and possession of a depressant were dismissed by the State's Attorney's Office.

Aside from the dropped charges, Cook's plea contained no terms as to a sentence, other than that the misdemeanor charge will run concurrent with whatever the sentence is for the two felonies. Each felony count allows a maximum sentence of up to 15 years, which would mean that it is possible for Cook to receive 30 years in prison.

State's Attorney Erica Marthage said that she will likely seek a number of years for Cook's minimum sentence with no more than 20 years for a maximum. She said that a pre-sentencing investigation will be conducted prior to the hearing, and that it will likely contain information on Cook's behavior since the crash, which will help form her decision on what to argue for a minimum sentence.

Marthage said that Cook's age makes it unlikely that she would receive the maximum penalty, but the fact that she was unsatisfactorily discharged from probation as a result of the crash charges was something the state will bring up to argue against any kind of probationary or deferred sentence.

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She said the state was confident about the case should it have gone to trial, and that the dismissal of the driving under the influence charge would not likely have significantly affected any overall sentence Cook might have received. She said that under state law, DUI drug statutes are difficult to prove. "I've never had a successful DUI drug case," she said.

Public Defender Frederick Bragdon, representing Cook, said he will argue for a split sentence with some probation. He said that he will argue for less than five years on the minimum sentence. "After hearing the evidence in the case, she was prepared to admit she was at fault," he said, adding that Cook understands the sentence will likely contain some jail time.

"For us, it's always been partly about the babies, but we have to take what we can get," said Patricia Blair, the driver of the vehicle that Cook struck, injuring her and causing her to lose the twins she was eight months pregnant with at the time. "It was helpful for me to hear her plead guilty."

Since the crash, Blair has been vocal in urging state legislators to pass a fetal homicide bill, which would create penalties for causing the unwanted death of a fetus. Under Vermont law, unborn children are not considered people for the purposes of criminal statutes. After much heated debate in the media, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Sears, D-Bennington, decided not to introduce a draft fetal homicide bill this legislative session.

As a victim, Blair will have an opportunity to address the court about the crash's impact on her life at Cook's sentencing hearing, which has not yet been scheduled.

According to police, on Aug. 10, Cook crossed the center line on Route 7 in Pownal and struck the van being driven by Blair. Aside from Blair, her husband, Randy Blair, was severely injured. Cook was injured in the crash as well.

Police said regulated drugs were found in Cook's vehicle, which they said had four different size tires, including one a spare tire. Police said that Cook was driving 60 mph in a 50 mph zone.


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