Lebanon man faces charges for crash that killed friend

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION, Vt. (WCAX) A Lebanon, New Hampshire, man faces up to 30 years behind bars for a crash in Norwich that killed his friend and seriously injured another.

Keith Cushman

Police say Keith Cushman, 34, was high on marijuana when he crashed his truck on Interstate 91 back in September. He is charged with two counts of gross negligent operation.

His friend, Theodore Haley, 37, was killed in the crash. According to court paperwork, Cushman admitted to smoking marijuana earlier in the day. Pot was also located in his truck. But Cushman is not being charged with DUI. Prosecutors say due to current laws and tests for marijuana, proving the drug caused a crash is more difficult than alcohol.

"With the DUI drug charge, you are boxed into, from the prosecution's perspective, proving that drugs did it. Here, the state's theory of the case could rely upon fatigue, it can rely upon speeding, it could rely on lack of vigilance. And the underlying reason for those things could very well be drug impairment, but the state doesn't have to prove it," Windsor County State's Attorney David Cahill said.

Cushman on Tuesday entered a plea of not guilty to the two charges. He also faces unrelated charges for a crash that occurred after the fatal crash in Norwich.

Police say blood tests can determine if a driver was high on marijuana at the time of a crash. However, Cahill says more tools are needed when it comes to determining impairment.

Cahill and other Vermont authorities fear that legalized possession of marijuana, and the prospect for legal sales, will only lead to more people driving stoned. Gov. Phil Scott, R-Vermont, has been outspoken about the need for roadside tests for cannabis.

"The governor is 100 percent right. There does need to be an objective test and it needs to be roadside so it's timely, so that it's capturing the impairment that is occurring right then and there. A separate question is what do we do with the test. It needs to be interpreted by people who are properly trained and know the science," Cahill said, although he pointed out that he supports legal ways to buy marijuana.