When most kids are just starting to legally drive, 16-year-old James Companion is facing charges he drove drunk and killed his passenger in a fiery crash -- and police say he doesn't even have a license or a permit.
"He's really still in shock as can be expected. This is a tragedy for everybody who was involved," said Leroy Yoder, Companion's lawyer.
Police say the St. Albans teenager was driving more than double the posted speed limit on Bay Road in Colchester when he lost control, crossed the center line and slammed into a utility pole. Eyewitnesses say the car burst into flames. Police say the passenger, 25-year old Tasha Maring, was trapped inside the burning vehicle and died.
According to court papers, Companion told police the two were friends and they went out on Friday night to buy more beer. He also said he'd consumed five shots before getting behind the wheel. But when police asked him to take a breathalyzer test, he refused.
"It's a very serious case regardless of age and we're going to be treating it as such," said Chittenden County Dep. State's Attorney Bram Kranichfeld. Kranichfeld added that Companion's age will not impact how the case is prosecuted
In court, Companion pleaded not guilty, denying he was behind the wheel. He says Maring was driving. But police say the evidence puts her in the passenger seat.
If convicted, Companion faces up to 15 years behind bars. The judge set bail at 25-thousand dollars, but if the St. Albans teen cannot make bail, it is unclear where he will be held.
"A sixteen year old can be held in an adult facility, but cannot be put in adult population. But it appears that Woodside would be the placement at this point," Leroy Yoder said.
Companion and his mom hugged before the teen was led away in handcuffs.