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Vt. texting-while-driving trial ends in plea deal - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. texting-while-driving trial ends in plea deal

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Emma Vieira Emma Vieira
Deb Drewniak Deb Drewniak
BURLINGTON, Vt. -

A surprising turn in the trial of a Colchester teen accused of texting, crashing and almost killing a pedestrian.

One sentence by Emma Vieira's own expert witness seems to have prompted an unexpected plea deal in the case.

"There was no texting going on at the time and no phone calls," said defense witness Robert Duchaime.

That statement by crash reconstruction expert Robert Duhaime came as he was explaining his theory of the case. He was only supposed to testify about visibility at the time of the crash -- not offer an opinion to the jury about whether Vieira was texting. Fearing this would open the door to previously suppressed statements Vieira made to police -- her lawyers struck a deal with the state -- ending the trial prematurely.

"What's your plea then to count one which is gross negligent operation with serious bodily injury to another?" asked Judge Michael Kupersmith. Emma Vieira replied, "Guilty your honor."

The 19-year-old Colchester teen also pleaded guilty to a new misdemeanor negligent operation charge. Under the deal -- she'll serve up to six months in jail -- and a five year deferred sentence. She's also required to complete 500 hours of community service with an organization specializing in brain injuries.

"There are no winners in this case no matter what the outcome was. It was a tragedy," remarked Chittenden County Deputy State's attorney Paul Finnerty.

Vieira's victim, 53-year-old Deborah Drewniak, is still recovering from her brain injury -- and now struggles to speak. But she says she was on board with the deal.

"Well Emma has screwed up my life but she has her own to make it right over a period of time so hopefully she is able to do that," said Drewniak.

Had Vieira been convicted of prior charges -- she could have faced 15 years behind bars -- a sentence that even the prosecution thought was too harsh. The state says the deal was a reasonable compromise.

"It's a fair outcome. The Drewniaks are in favor of it. Ms. Vieira accepted it and I think it's justice," explained Finnerty.

Vieira's lawyers are pushing for home confinement but the state says it will seek jail time.

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