LACONIA — A Belknap County Grand Jury yesterday indicted Amy LaFond on five felony charges — manslaughter, two counts of negligent homicide, second degree assault and possession of a narcotic drug. She was the driver of the car that struck two girls at the Messer Street Bridge in April, taking the life of Lilyanna Johnson, 14, and severely injuring Allyssa Miner, 14.
In addition, LaFond is charged with a misdemeanor drug offense and three traffic violations, all of which are now before the Belknap County Superior Court.
LaFond, 52, of 10 River Street, Laconia, entered pleas of not guilty to the felony charges and earlier pled not guilty to the misdemeanor and violations when she was arraigned in 4th Circuit Court — Laconia last week. She is being held in Belknap County Jail in lieu of bail of $50,000 cash or $100,000 corporate surety.
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 was indicted on two alternative theories of negligent homicide, both class B felonies, one for "failing to maintain a proper lookout" and the other for "failing to pay due attention while operating a motor vehicle after having consumed drugs."
County Attorney Melissa Countway Guldbrandsen has said that toxicology tests found elevated levels of oxycodone and the presence of gabapentin, both prescription drugs, in LaFond's bloodstream. Prior to LaFond's arraignment, Guldbrandsen noted that LaFond has not been charged with driving while impaired, but "we are alleging that the accident occurred after she consumed drugs."
The two charges — manslaughter and negligent homicide — 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.
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.