ID of driver in fatal withheld
>Area woman killed in auto-pedestrain crash
State law enforcement’s decision to not release the name of the 17-year-old driver involved in the July 15 fatal auto-pedestrian accident in Lyndeborough is based on the possibility the driver could be charged as a juvenile, an assistant attorney general said July 29.
No charges have been filed, officials have said, but the investigation is continuing and charges have not been ruled out.
The controversy over whether the name of the driver, a female, should be released developed in the wake of the early-morning incident in which, according to police, the 2013 Dodge truck the teen was operating struck and fatally injured a woman walking along Center Road.
Police identified the victim as 60-year-old Debess Rogers, a longtime resident of Lyndeborough, but declined to identify the driver, saying they couldn’t because she is a juvenile.
State police Capt. Paul T. Hardcastle affirmed the department’s position in response to a media email inquiry five days later.
"The (New Hampshire) State Police cannot release information regarding the operator of the motor vehicle, as that individual is a juvenile," Hardcastle wrote.
Assistant Senior Attorney General Karen Schlitzer said that while a state law governing the issue does not prohibit authorities from releasing names of juvenile drivers involved in motor vehicle-related cases, it also doesn’t require them to release the information.
Instead, the legislation gives authorities discretion on whether to give out such information, Schlitzer said.
The concern lies in the possibility that if the driver is charged, and she is charged as a juvenile, having her name out in the public would be a problem, Schlitzer said.
"We feel it’s best to treat it confidentially now, to prevent that possibility from happening," Schlitzer said. Once the driver’s name is released, "we can’t unring that bell."
Should the driver be charged as an adult, she added, her identity would become public, as would the nature of the charges and the proceedings against her.
The decision whether to file charges is ultimately up to police investigators and their supervisors. Schlitzer referred questions to Department of Safety spokesman Michael Todd, who didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.
Schlitzer defended the importance of withholding the driver’s name for the time being. "There’s good reason for the language (in applicable statutes), it’s there for the protection of juveniles," she said.
Meanwhile, a Telegraph search of similar motor vehicle cases involving 16- or 17-year-old drivers located several instances in which young drivers were identified, most notably a tragic, double-fatal crash involving Milford teens seven years ago.
The crash, which happened on Route 13 near the Mont Vernon-New Boston line the night of April 27, 2009, claimed the lives of two 16-year-olds and left the driver, also 16, with severe injuries.
The following day, state and local police in a statement identified the passengers as well as driver. Six months later, authorities were still mulling whether to file charges against the driver, according to follow-up stories.
Schlitzer said she wasn’t familiar with the circumstances of that crash and was unable to comment on it.
More recently, state police in March 2015 identified the 17-year-old driver who crashed his car on the Sagamore Bridge, which left it teetering precariously on the guardrail above the Merrimack River. Police said he was given a citation for failing to obey highway markings.
And in December 2015, a 16-year-old was identified by state police as the driver of a Hyundai Sonata who was charged with reckless operation after he was clocked going 101 mph on Route 93 in Holderness.