LACONIA — Six months after the car she was driving struck two girls at the Messer Street Bridge, taking the life of Lilyanna Johnson, 14, and severely injuring Allyssa Miner, 14, Amy LaFond, 52, was arrested at her home at 10 River Street shortly after 7 a.m. yesterday on charges of manslaughter, negligent homicide and assault — as well as on two drug offenses and three traffic violations.
About 15 relatives and friends of the girls and LaFond's husband sat quietly as LaFond was arraigned in 4th Circuit Court-Laconia later in the day. LaFond entered no plea on four felony charges and pled not guilty to a misdemeanor and three violations. Judge Jim Carroll ordered her held in lieu of $30,000 cash bail on the four felony charges and set $5,000 personal recognizance bail for one misdemeanor drug offense and the three traffic violations. Should she post bail, Carroll ordered her not to operate a motor vehicle, confined her to the state and required her to report to the police daily at noon.
Johnson and Miner were struck while on the sidewalk at the crosswalk at the south end of the Messer Street Bridge at approximately 2:30 p.m. on April 19. Lafond was traveling northbound on Messer Street toward its intersection with Opechee Street. A car going in the same direction had stopped at the crosswalk, apparently to enable a number of middle school students standing at the corner to cross the street. Lafond is alleged to have skirted the stopped car, crossed into the southbound lane of Messer Street and mounted the raised sidewalk, hitting the two girls.
In charging manslaughter, a class A felony, the state alleges that LaFond recklessly caused the death of Lilyanna Johnson by driving while distracted at an excessive speed after consuming drugs. Alternatively, she is charged with negligent homicide, a class B felony, for "failing to maintain a proper lookout" while driving.
The two charges represent different degrees of culpability. Manslaugher presumes recklessness, or consciously disregarding "a substantial and unjustifiable risk" of causing injury or death despite being aware of that risk. The risk must be of a kind that, in the circumstances, to disregard it would be inconsistent with the conduct of a law-abiding person. On the other hand, a person acts negligently by failing to become aware of "a substantial or unjustifiable risk" of a nature and degree that a reasonable person would observe.
La Fond is charged with second degree assault, a class A felony, for recklessly injuring Allyssa Miner, who suffered a fractured pelvis, lacerated spleen and bruised lung, by driving at excessive speed while distracted and after taking drugs.
Speaking to the press prior to the arraignment, County Attorney Melissa Countway Guldbrandsen noted that LaFond has not been charged with driving while impaired, but "we are alleging that the accident occurred after she consumed drugs."
LaFond is also charged with possession of narcotic drugs, specifically oxycodone, a class B felony, and unlawful dealing in prescription drugs, gabapentin or Neurontin, a class A misdemeanor. The state alleges that both were found in her possession, though she had no lawful prescription for either. Finally, LaFond faces three traffic violations — speeding, failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk and crossing the double yellow line when it was not safe to do so.
At the press conference Police Chief Chris Adams acknowledged that the lengthy investigation was "a very difficult time for the families" and thanked them for their patience. He was echoed by Guldbrandsen who said "this was a very thorough and careful investigation by the Laconia Police Department, in which nearly every officer participated." She said that the Belknap County Accident Reconstruction Team, led by Sergeant Al Graton of the Laconia Police, conducted an extensive investigation that only concluded last month and laboratory analysis was performed not only by the New Hampshire State Police but also by a laboratory in Pennsylvania. "Many different factors contributed to this accident," said Guldbrandsen, who said she still considers the case "an ongoing investigation."
At the arraignment Guldbrandsen, stressing the seriousness of the offenses and the danger LaFond posed to the community asked to court to set cash bail at $50,000. Describing what happened on April 19, she told the court that "the accident alone represents her dangerousness to the community."
Guldbrandsen then turned to the evidence, noting that blood tests found "numerous prescription drugs in her (LaFond's) system," including highly elevated levels of oxycodone.
Attorney John Bresaw, representing LaFond firmly objected to introducing evidence, which he had no opportunity to assess. But, Carroll let Guldbrandsen proceed to explain that although LaFond had been prescribed oxycodone, she was found in possession of a 30 milligram tablet, for which she had no prescription. When she went on to claim that LaFond had illicitly purchased oxycodone on the day of the collision, Bresaw again objected.
Noting that LaFond also possessed gabapentin without a prescription, Guldbrandsen said that it reflected "a course of conduct of abusing non-prescription and prescription drugs," prompting another objection from Bresaw.
Guldbrandsen further disclosed that both records and witnesses indicate that LaFond was using her cell phone either to speak or text when the collision occurred. Likewise, she said that evidence collected by the Belknap County Accident Reconstruction Team suggested that LaFond was driving at 40 miles per hour, 10 miles above the posted the speed limit, when there were many pedestrians, most of them schoolchildren, in the area.
Guldbrandsen reminded the court of LaFond's criminal history, which began with convictions for disorderly conduct in 1985 and criminal trespass in 1994, both in Manchester, and included two cases of willful concealment, one in Franklin in 2011 and another in Laconia in 2013, and theft by unauthorized taking in Laconia in 2012.
Bresaw countered that "Amy is not a threat to anyone." Reminding the court that six months have passed since the accident, he said "if the state had a concern they would not leave her in the community for six months. There was no concern in that interim," he said, describing LaFond's criminal record as "minimal" and including "no track record of violence or doing harm to others." He remarked that Guldbrandsen repeatedly referred to "an accident" and said "that's exactly what this was, an accident."
Furthermore Bresaw said that LaFond was suffering from "several serious medical conditions," including a degenerative bone disease, lesion on her spine and problems with her esophagus.
LaFond, Bresaw insisted, posed no risk to flee. He told the court she has lived with her husband and 13-yearold son at 10 River Street for six years and has "every available tie to the community." He remarked that she has been "cooperative" throughout the investigation and was arrested at her home.
Bresaw called Guldbrandsen's request for $50,000 cash bail "egregious" and "very high," which was "sanctioning her for the charges."
Guldbrandsen told the court that the state is "well aware" of the time that passed between the accident and the arrest, but repeated that "the accident was an egregious offense."