Trial starts for Vt. teen accused of texting-while-driving crash - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Trial starts for Vt. teen accused of texting-while-driving crash

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

Deborah Drewniak says doctors didn't expect her to survive. But 14 months after being hit by a car in Colchester, she's defying the odds.

"I was in a coma for a couple of months after my accident," she said. "So I'm doing as good as can be expected."

Drewniak continues to struggle with her speech and mobility.

"This really changed my state of independence because I'm dependent on everybody for everything now," she said.

Tuesday, she faced the teen accused of causing her injuries-- hitting her and killing her dog last August. Prosecutors charged Emma Vieira, 19, of Colchester, with gross negligence and say she was texting moments before the crash.

"This is a case about time," Chittenden County Deputy State's Attorney Paul Finnerty said.

Prosecutors say it takes 45 seconds to drive from Vieira's house to the crash scene. In that time they allege the teen had her phone on her lap, received four text messages and sent one herself.

"She sent a text message. Twenty-nine seconds later she called 911," Finnerty said.

Vieira denies the allegations and cried as the 911 recording was played for the jury.

"Oh my God. I can't believe I just hit somebody," she is heard saying on the 911 recording.

"This is a case about a perfect storm," said Sarah Reed, Vieira's lawyer.

Reed told the jury this crash was not a crime, but an unfortunate series of events that could have happened to anyone driving on River Road that night.

"The evidence that you will hear and see will show you that this accident happened because of poor visibility, created by poor wardrobe choice and poor judgment," Reed said.

The defense plans to question Drewniak's sobriety, a topic that the judge said was off limits during opening arguments. They also say Drewniak was wearing all black and walked into the road at the exact moment Vieira drove by. In a taped interview with police, Vieira claims she never saw Drewniak, but also admits she was distracted.

"I could have been paying better attention, but I was just kind of driving," Vieira says on the police tape.

Vieira has repeatedly denied texting and driving, but the state plans to poke holes in her story. They say she deleted all her texts before surrendering her phone to police.

Drewniak says Vieira's fate is up to the jury and only added this when asked about the outcome she desired: "I'll be glad when it's over with."

The trial is expected to last the rest of the week. Prosecutors plan to call Drewniak, four Colchester police officers and a representative from Verizon who will testify about Vieira's cellphone records. The defense will then call a crash scene expert, a chemist who specializes in blood alcohol levels and a neighbor. It's unlikely Vieira will take the stand. If convicted, she faces up to 15 years behind bars.

The state will not be allowed to use any statements Vieira made to police in the four days after the crash. A judge tossed them because Vieira was not read her Miranda rights.

Vermont's texting and driving law went into effect in June 2010. State police said Tuesday their records show that in the 28 months since the law went into effect, they've written 84 tickets for texting and driving. That of course only represents state police, not local police departments, but it's still not a very high number.

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