ST. ALBANS — On July 18, 2013, Tristan Cameron, then 17, and Tyler Rheaume, 16, were two friends enjoying the freedom of summer – watching movies, eating pizza, jumping off the cliffs into water at the Swanton quarry. But a trip to visit Cameron’s girlfriend changed all of that.

Local farmer Archie Domina, said he was driving on the Duffy Hill Road near the intersection with the Burns Road in Sheldon when a silver Volkswagen Passat came around the corner wide. The driver swerved to avoid Domina’s truck, losing control.

Local farmer Archie Domina, said he was driving on the Duffy Hill Road near the intersection with the Burns Road in Sheldon when a silver Volkswagen Passat came around the corner wide. The driver swerved to avoid Domina’s truck, losing control.

The car spun, placing the passenger side, where Rheaume, of Sheldon, was riding, directly in the path of a second farm truck driven by Jason Marchand. Marchand, then 43 and of Alburgh, was unable to stop in time and the two vehicles collided.

Rheaume died of his injuries, and Cameron of St. Albans now stands accused of grossly negligent operation with a fatality resulting.

Almost two years after the accident, a jury is finally hearing the case.

State’s attorney Jim Hughes over the past two days has called witnesses, Marchand and Domina, law enforcement officers and EMTs who responded to the scene, Vermont State Police accident reconstructionist Daniel Marcellus, and DMV inspector Jamie Salter.

The defense began its case late yesterday and will continue calling witnesses today. The case will likely go to the jury this afternoon.

The most wrenching testimony has come from AmCare Ambulance EMT Dale Powers, who described how she cared for Rheaume at the scene.

When she arrived, Powers went directly to the car, while another EMT went to care for Cameron, who was standing in the road with a t-shirt pressed to his forehead.

The impact broke the passenger seat loose from the floor, turning it. Rheaume, Powers said, was “encapsulated” by the vehicle. “From the shoulders down, he couldn’t move,” she told the court.

Climbing into the car on the driver’s side, she adjusted his head to make it easier for him to breath and began suctioning his airway, which kept filling with blood.

There were serious injuries on the right side of his head and he was unconscious, although he did moan as Powers talked to him.

“I stayed in the car the whole time … to keep talking to him and just being there with him,” Powers testified.

She remained in the car as firefighters using heavy rescue equipment to cut the roof off of the car.

Powers continued her task of keeping Rheaume’s airway open during the ambulance ride to Northwestern Medical Center while two other EMTs also provided care. Rheaume, she said, was taking only six to eight breaths per minute.

The state medical examiner’s office later determined Rheaume had died of “blunt impact head injuries,” which were the result of being an unrestrained passenger in a car struck by a dump truck.

The accident

Auto accident reconstructionist Marcellus, a trooper with the Vermont State Police, described for the jury in detail the marks left in the gravel on Duffy Hill Road that afternoon by Marchand’s truck and Cameron’s Passat.

He pointed out where the skid marks began for Marchand’s truck, and explained that the absence of tire rotation within the marks means the brakes were engaged.

The Passat’s tire tracks tell a different story, he testified. “The driver of the vehicle, Mr. Cameron, lost control coming around that corner,” said Marcellus.

Cameron steered to the left to correct for the loss of control and the rear of the vehicle swung in the other direction, according to Marcellus. “The vehicle had some forward momentum and it brought it across both lanes” into the path of Marchand’s truck, which at this point was already breaking, according to the trooper.

Marcellus also testified this was not a high-speed crash. Using the marks on the road, he was able to calculate the speed of the vehicle in the moments after Cameron lost control. The car was traveling at between 34.5 and 43 mph.

Marchand worked for Domina, who in addition to owning a farm also has a custom cut business. Domina’s name may be familiar to Messenger readers because he was also the owner of a manure truck that stuck a building on South Main Street in St. Albans City in 2011. His son, Archie Domina, Jr. was driving that truck.

That vehicle was uninspected, unregistered and four of the six brakes weren’t working.

Defense attorney Rory Malone was quick to question Domina about the maintenance of his vehicles and the condition of the truck driven by Marchand.

Domina said that since the incident in the city – that truck had had its brakes adjusted by a man who was not a certified mechanic – he has done all maintenance in-house.

The truck driven by Marchand on the day of the fatal accident was not inspected.

It was inspected immediately afterwards. Dept. of Motor Vehicles inspector Jamie Salter, a former St. Albans Police Dept. officer, testified that he arrived on the scene around 2:30 p.m., just as the ambulances were departing with Cameron and Rheaume inside.

He found 14 violations. Three were the result of the crash, eight existed prior to the crash, and for three it wasn’t possible to determine if they were pre- or post-crash.

Three of the six brakes on the vehicle were out of adjustment. “That violation would have placed the vehicle out of service,” he testified.

Although out of adjustment, the brakes would still have worked, he said, but not as quickly. “You’re talking split seconds for that to kick in,” Salter said.

The truck was empty at the time of the accident, and thus would have needed less breaking power to stop it than if it had been full of feed, he explained.

During cross-examination by Malone, Salter stated, “Once they’re out of adjustment, they’re considered defective.”

Salter took extensive photos of the scene. Like Marcellus, he is of the opinion the marks show where the truck’s brakes locked and the truck slid on the gravel.

“The vehicle (Marchand’s truck) did try to maneuver out of the way as they were applying the brake,” Salter said, which can be determined from the depth and direction of the marks.

After the state rested its case, the jury was excused and the defense made a standard motion for acquittal. “The evidence doesn’t show action or inaction on the part of Tristan Cameron rising to the level of gross negligence,” said defense attorney Steve Dunham.

Judge Alison Arms did not hear oral argument of the motion before retiring to her chambers to consider the motion.

When she returned Arms rejected the motion. Gross negligence is a “gross deviation from the care a reasonably prudent person would exercise in similar circumstance,” she said.

Drivers, Arms added, have a duty to maintain control of their vehicle and keep it in the right path. In a motion of this kind, the evidence is considered in the light most favorable to the state.

Doing so, Arms found the evidence is sufficient to support a charge of gross negligence.

The defense began its case late yesterday afternoon with two residents from the area who described the hazards of driving that corner. It was to continue to present witnesses today.