Crash spurs new law

Proposal follows fatal accident in Lyndeborough

WILTON – Legislation that would allow the state to suspend or revoke the driver’s license of anyone with a youth operator license who had been involved in a serious accident has passed the House and will go to the Senate.

House Bill 364 was prompted by a fatal accident in Lyndeborough last summer when, police said, a truck driven by a 17-year-old driver hit and killed Debess Rogers, of Lyndeborough.

An amended version of the bill that allows a 12-month suspension passed with a 11-3 committee vote and then a House voice vote on Thursday, March 9.

If the law passes the Senate, then the Department of Safety – after a hearing – could take away the license of a driver who had been involved in an accident that results in death or serious injury.

New Hampshire’s youth operator licenses are held by drivers ages 16-21. They have more restrictions than a standard license, including a prohibition against driving between 1 and 4 a.m.

State Rep. Carol Roberts, of Wilton, is the bill’s main sponsor.

“It will close a loophole that ties the hands of law enforcement,” Roberts said Friday; police could take a driver off the road while an investigation is going on.

For the families of victims, “it is painful to know the person is driving around” after such a serious accident, she said.

Under the current law, RSA 263:14, which established the youth operator’s license, the Department of Safety can revoke or suspend a license, after a hearing, for up to 90 days, depending on the violation.

Around 1:30 a.m. July 15, police said, a blue Dodge Ram driven by Grace Wight, then 17, of Lyndeborough, veered across the road and hit Rogers, a 60-year-old grandmother who was walking home after her car stalled.

Although the indictment says the crash occurred on Mountain Road, the original police reports said it happened on Center Road.

After a seven-month investigation, Wight, of 265 Mountain Road, was indicted by a grand jury. She faces one count each of negligent homicide and reckless conduct involving a deadly weapon, both Class B felonies, and one Class A misdemeanor count of vehicular assault.

Wight will be arraigned Friday, March 17, at Superior Court North in Manchester.

Until she was indicted last month, state police had declined to identify her, despite the fact that at 17 she is an adult under the motor vehicle provision of state law.

Wilton Police Chief Brent Hautanen spoke in support of the bill on behalf of the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police.

In a phone interview last week, Hautanen said the youth license was created in 1997 after a series of bad accidents involving teens, and it was intended to create a graduated license with a limited set of privileges for teens to grow into.

“It didn’t say anything about this type of situation,” when an investigation could go on for many months, he said, referring to the Lyndeborough crash.

The new law gives the Department of Safety some latitude, because a license could be suspended for one year, but it could be less or not at all, he said.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.

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