Driver in deadly Vermont crash goes free in plea deal

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION, Vt. (WCAX) Emotional testimony in court Tuesday from the father of a man who was killed in a car crash.

The wreck happened last September in Norwich and police say the driver of the car was high on marijuana at the time. It's a case that puts drugged-driving enforcement in the spotlight.

Keith Cushman was originally charged with two felonies that could have sent him to jail for up to 30 years. But Tuesday, he walked out of court, free to go home, after pleading guilty to misdemeanors, avoiding jail time altogether. Family members of the victim say it's insane.

"He was a good kid," Theodore Haley II said. "He worked. He lived his life the way he wanted to live it."

Haley is talking about his son, Theodore Haley III, who died back in September in a crash in Norwich. Another passenger in the truck was seriously injured. But loved ones of the victims did not get the justice they were looking for during a Tuesday court hearing.

"It's insane that the state would legalize marijuana before they had any sort of roadside testing," Haley II said.

Police say the driver during the fatal wreck, Keith Cushman, was high on marijuana at the time of the crash. According to court paperwork, Cushman admitted to smoking marijuana earlier that day and pot was also found in his truck. But the state never charged Cushman with DUI and the two felony counts he did face were pleaded down to misdemeanors.

"We were deprived of the quality of evidence that was necessary to do justice by the defendant, the family and the individual who lost his life that day," Windsor County State's Attorney David Cahill said.

A blood test found marijuana in Cushman's system, but the tests were taken well after the accident. There currently is no roadside test in Vermont to detect marijuana impairment. Cahill says if the case went to trial, it would have been difficult to prove that pot caused the crash.

"Certainly, the result we achieved today did not honor the value of the life that was lost," Cahill said.

The wreck happened just a few months after Vermont legalized recreational marijuana.

Cahill agrees a roadside test is needed to detect whether someone is high behind the wheel. Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, has also been outspoken about the need for roadside tests.

"The legalization of marijuana is a convenient time to have this discussion, but it's still too late," Cahill said.

Under the deal reached with the state, Cushman received a one- to four-year sentence for two counts of negligent operation. The jail time is all suspended as long as he stays out of trouble. He will be on probation for the next five years.