WHITE RIVER JUNCTION, Vt. — The State of Vermont has dismissed the case of Chester resident Michael Buxton, 37, whose 2016 conviction for criminal negligence was overturned by the state Supreme Court in June.
In 2016, a jury in Windsor criminal court found Buxton guilty of negligent operation of a motor vehicle in a fatal 2015 vehicle collision with a pedestrian, Jordan Pfenning, 23, of Springfield.
Buxton successfully appealed the decision, arguing that the presiding Judge Timothy Tomasi wrongfully allowed testimony from the victim’s father, who was not a witness to the event.
On the night of Nov. 9, 2015, Buxton’s vehicle struck Pfenning on Rte. 11 near the plaza intersection at River Street. Court records indicate that Pfenning was in the marked crosswalk near the McDonald’s at the time of collision. He died two days later at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon as a result of his injuries.
Buxton said that he was at the stop light, heading westbound toward Chester. He admitted that when the light turned green, he proceeded while still attending to his radio.
Records also indicate that Buxton’s car proceeded at a relatively high rate of speed, between 20-28 mph through the intersection.
However, the evidence also showed that Pfenning had alcohol in his system, wore dark clothing and did not appear to be paying attention to his surroundings, ignoring the pedestrian signal saying not to cross in the process.
Buxton was not using a cellphone while driving, nor impaired by alcohol or chemicals. Documents confirm that Buxton stopped immediately after hitting Pfenning and appeared shaken and remorseful.
According to the summary, the jury found Buxton guilty based on the speed of Buxton’s vehicle through the intersection and his attention being on his car radio, whereas other drivers reportedly had seen Pfenning in the crosswalk.
In an appeal to the Supreme Court, Buxton’s attorney argued that the court wrongfully allowed testimony that may have influenced the jury to base its verdict on Pfenning’s death and family impact rather than case evidence.
The defense said that the judge erred by allowing Pfenning’s father to testify, despite the father not witnessing the event. The defense also criticized the judge’s denial of a pretrial motion to exclude the fact that Pfenning died.
At the time, Judge Tomasi said that Pfenning’s death was relevant in that it showed the speed and force at the time of the collision. In appeal, the defense said that Pfenning’s death, while a consequence of the event, was not relevant to the charge of criminal neglect, nor was the impact on Pfenning’s father.
On June 5, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Buxton, stating that the court shouldn’t have allowed the father’s testimony and abused its discretion by denying the defense’s motion to exclude Pfenning’s death from the evidence. The court also found that Pfenning’s own behavior may have contributed to the collision.
On Wednesday, State’s Attorney David Cahill signed a notice of dismissal, stating that the state has officially dropped its case against Buxton.
Buxton could not be reached for comment by time of publication.