BRATTLEBORO — What sort of testimony might be allowed during the trial of a 26-year-old man accused of causing the death of his fiance during a ride on a utility vehicle was the subject of discussion in Windham Superior Court on Monday morning.
Andrew Ielpi is facing charges of grossly negligent vehicle operation resulting in death and manslaughter in the May 22, 2016, death of Angelique Frost, who was 23 at the time of her death.
According to court documents, Ielpi was driving a six-wheeled utility vehicle when, at the urging of Frost “to go get some air” over a culvert in a privately owned road in Westminster, he lost control and crashed, throwing Frost off the vehicle and into a tree. Ielpi and his parents transported Frost’s body to an urgent care facility in Bellows Falls only to find the clinic closed. They then drove to the Bellows Falls Police Department, where Frost was declared dead.
Neither Ielpi nor his parents called 911 or sought emergency assistance for Frost before transporting her to Bellows Falls.
Ielpi’s defense attorney, David Sleigh, told Windham Superior Court Judge John Treadwell that the prosecution’s attempt to introduce testimony about what happened after the accident “was not germane or relevant in determining whether Andrew operated the vehicle in a grossly manner …”
Sleigh said introducing testimony on what happened after the accident was just “a distraction and an attempt to cast Andrew in a bad light in a way that would shift the focus of the jury from determining whether the operation of the vehicle was grossly negligent … It really doesn’t establish anything as to the essential elements. It doesn’t add anything to the jury’s analysis of whether the operation was negligent.”
The state’s attempt is to shift the jury’s analysis away from the question of whether the operation of the vehicle was grossly negligent to whether Ielpi “is a bad guy,” contested Sleigh, and allowing the state to introduce evidence to impugn his client’s character wasn’t admissible.
But Winhdam County Deputy State’s Attorney David Gartenstein argued that the testimony of what happened after the accident, including moving Frost’s body and not calling 911 and the discussions between him, his mother and his step-father during that process, was evidence of negligent conduct that the jury should have an opportunity to consider.
“To cut out part of that evidence and to say that magically the body appeared at the police station … that just does not do justice to the facts of the case as a whole,” he said, adding leaving it out would call into question the integrity and completeness of the investigation.
Gartenstein acknowledged that the medical examiner would testify that Frost’s death “was a natural consequence of her body impacting the tree,” but by moving her body, Ielpi had denied the state the opportunity to fully examine the crash scene with her body present.
“The evidence includes explanations of the time gap between when the crash occurred and when the defendant and his family members and the decedent arrived at the police station,” argued Gartenstein.
The decision to move Frost’s body also demonstrates Ielpi’s impulsive judgment that led to the accident and whether he was operating the vehicle “in a reasonable prudent manner,” the basis of the negligent operation charge, argued Gartenstein. “It’s for the jury to decide what was his state of mind and to what extent his judgment was impaired … He doesn’t call police and he doesn’t call 911. He gets in the car, he calls his mom and drives back, loads the body in the vehicle … those issues go to define standard of care as a whole.”
Gartenstein also reassured the judge that he wouldn’t offer character evidence against Ielpi, even though there is “a lengthy history” between Ielpi and the Windham County State’s Attorney’s Office, he said.
Treadwell said he would issue a written decision in response to the court arguments. He also has to rule on whether toxicology should be admitted about marijuana consumption prior to crash. Ielpie’s criminal trial was originally scheduled for September, but due to a miscommunication between the defense and the state, was postponed to early next year. A report on the structural integrity of the utility vehicle commissioned by the defense was not received by prosecutors until recently, said Gartenstein.
“What we want and what [Frost’s] mom wants is a fair adjudication of the merits of what happened,” said Gartenstein, which will require a review of the report and perhaps the state’s own analysis of the vehicle.
Judge Treadwell, who characterized the miscommunication as a “wholly inadvertent error,” said he would reschedule the trial.
Ielpi, his mother and step-father and others are named in a civil suit filed by Frost’s mother, Rebecca Kemp, of Putney, who is seeking in excess of $3 million in the death of her daughter.
Ielpi’s biological father, Jonathan Ielpi, was 29 and a New York City firefighter who died when the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The September 11th Victim Compensation Fund distributed awards to 2,880 of the 2,963 death claims filed. The average award was $2,082,128 and went as high as $7.1 million.