Driver in Fatal I-91 Crash Gets Suspended Sentence

By Jordan Cuddemi

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 11-19-2018 9:21 AM

White River Junction — A 38-year-old Charlestown man received a suspended jail sentence in connection with a crash on Interstate 91 in June that killed a 36-year-old mother of two from Perkinsville.

Joshua Rondeau pleaded guilty on Oct. 23 to a misdemeanor charge of negligent vehicle operation with a fatality resulting in the death of Laura Cody McNaughton, and was sentenced for the charge on Wednesday in Windsor Superior Court, where he apologized to the Cody and McNaughton families.

Rondeau, who will remain on probation for 2½ years, must complete 400 hours of community service as part of a restorative justice program, something McNaughton’s husband, Ethan, said he hopes Rondeau takes “seriously and willingly.”

“Your approach to it will determine whether it is a cathartic or negative experience in your life. I hope that you will honor her loss by striving to be the very best you,” Ethan McNaughton wrote in a four-page statement read aloud on Wednesday by a victim’s advocate. “Nothing will bring Laura back to us and no amount of punishment could ever offset the loss that has been suffered. My aim throughout this process has been and remains not punitive in nature, but with an eye toward reformation.”

Rondeau expressed remorse for his actions in what Windsor County State’s Attorney David Cahill characterized as an emotional hearing.

Rondeau also immediately took responsibility for the situation. On the day he was arraigned, he pleaded guilty.

“No matter what the consequences, they do not compare to the loss suffered by the McNaughton family,” Rondeau said in court, reading from a handwritten statement. “The pain and sorrow that your families have experienced as a result of my actions will always haunt me. I cannot change that, but I would do anything to help with your healing.”

Rondeau’s attorney, Scott McGee, said on Friday that his client made it clear from the beginning of the case that he would accept “full responsibility” for what happened.

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Prosecutors say Rondeau was speeding and failed to drive for the heavy rain conditions the morning of the June 28 crash, causing his southbound pickup truck to cross the median of Interstate 91 and collide with McNaughton’s vehicle, killing her and injuring one of her sons. A sentencing memorandum filed on Rondeau’s behalf indicates he was driving with two of his children en route to their summer day care and camp programs before work when his pickup truck hydroplaned “in very heavy rain” and slid across the median into the northbound lanes near the Hartland exit.

He was driving 72 to 74 mph at the time and suffered a broken neck and concussion in the crash, according to the memorandum.

Rondeau, who was living in Windsor at the time of the crash, also didn’t have a valid driver’s license in Vermont, according to an addendum to the plea agreement in the case. His license was suspended for failing to pay a speeding ticket, which is a civil violation, Cahill said.

Rondeau was the manager of the Sanel Auto Parts Store in Bellows Falls, Vt., at the time, and now manages the Sanel store in Lebanon.

Rondeau’s additional probation conditions include that he not drive without a valid license, and Cahill said the Department of Motor Vehicles will suspend Rondeau’s license for a to-be-determined length of time. If he has a valid license, he can only drive to and from work, to bring his children to school, medical appointments and extracurricular activities and to participate in programming, according to the plea agreement.

Rondeau’s formal suspended sentence is one to two years. A charge of negligent operation of a vehicle with a fatality resulting carries a maximum penalty of two years in Vermont.

McNaughton, who was a member of the Weathersfield School Board, was the district director for the Vermont Department of Health in White River Junction.

She grew up in Springfield, Vt., and was the valedictorian of Springfield High School’s Class of 2000.

In his statement, Ethan McNaughton said his wife devoted much of her life to public health. At a young age, she was a member of several groups that helped others avoid high-risk behavior and she assisted in founding a “post-prom” program that promotes a safe and substance-free after event.

McNaughton, once an EMT, held a master’s degree in public health and worked for several nonprofits while volunteering her time for various groups including those impacted by HIV and AIDS and domestic violence.

“Those who knew Laura remember her for her kindness and empathy, her willingness to listen but also her drive to get things done and done the right way,” her husband said.

Although he wishes no ill will on Rondeau, he called his wife’s death “preventable” and “inexcusable” and urged Rondeau to “never again take such risks.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.

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