Jurors deliberating over driver’s role in fatal bicycle crash

  • Jessica Warren (left) listens to the judge’s instructions at the start of the negligent homicide trial at Merrimack County Superior Court on Wednesday, May 10, 2023. Warren is accused of striking and killing Patrick Bettens as he was riding his bicycle on North State Street in September of 2018. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Jessica Warren (right) arrives with her lawyer for the negligent homicide trial at Merrimack County Superior Court on Wednesday, May 10, 2023. Warren is accused of hitting and killing Patrick Bettens as he was riding his bicycle on North State Street in September of 2018. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 5/12/2023 4:19:06 PM

Neighbors along North State Street near the State Prison were tending to their yards, a mother and son were unloading the car in their driveway, and a UPS employee was making deliveries as Patrick Bettens went out for a bike ride on an unusually warm September day nearly five years ago.

Suddenly everyone’s attention turned to a collision in the roadway as they saw Bettens, an Army veteran and New Hampshire State Prison sergeant, get run down from behind by a minivan.

Prosecutors say Jessica Warren, a 46-year-old Penacook woman, dragged Bettens more than 500-feet down the street without stopping as she tried to flee the scene. 

Jurors began deliberating Friday after closing arguments in Warren’s week-long trial. A verdict is expected early next week.

Warren pleaded not guilty to felony charges of driving after suspension with death resulting and several misdemeanors stemming from the fatal crash in September 2018. She initially faced charges of vehicular assault and driving with a suspended license, both misdemeanors, and two violations of going over a solid line and following a vehicle too closely in connection with the fatal crash, according to court documents. 

Her charges were increased a year later to a felony offense, which holds a maximum penalty of seven years. Prosecutors are seeking the maximum state prison sentence arguing that if Warren had obeyed the law and not operated her vehicle with a suspended license, Bettens would be alive. 

“Ms. Warren knowingly operated a motor vehicle while her license was suspended, she was involved in a collision resulting in a person’s death and she operated her vehicle in an unlawful manner,” said prosecutor Melinda Siranian. “Because she did not move over as required by the rule of the road, she struck Patrick and it was her operation that caused the collision.”

However, defense attorney Vanessa Gelinas argued a UPS truck was illegally parked in the bike lane causing Bettens to move around the truck and enter the north bound travel lane on North State Street directly in front of Warren’s vehicle, causing the the crash.

“If you remove Ms. Warren, the same thing could have happened, but if you remove the UPS truck, Mr. Bettens wouldn’t have left the bike lane,” Gelinas said.

According to state law, vehicle operators are required to give bicyclists at least three-feet of space when passing but witnesses testified Warren was driving within striking distance of the UPS truck itself and did not attempt to drive around Bettens. 

“She hit Patrick Bettens after seeing his face and giving him the thumbs up and telling him to go ahead,” Siranian said. “She hit his back tire and she kept going, despite the fact that her van was bouncing like speed bumps because Bettens bike and his body are trapped under her van and she doesn’t stop even after his bike comes out.”

It wasn’t until Warren drove up over the curb, struck a street sign, crossed the yellow line and struck a box truck head on that she came to a stop, more than 500-feet away from the point of impact. Witnesses testified that, when approached by passersby, Warren denied striking Bettens, blamed a vehicle in front of her and attempted to flee the scene. 

“She never stopped and she tried to leave the scene because she knew she committed a crime and she knew she hit that bicyclist,” Siranian continued. 

Regardless of her actions at the scene, Gelinas argued that the crash was unavoidable due to the location of the UPS truck and that her view was obstructed by objects hanging in the vehicle’s window and for those reasons, she should be found not guilty. 

“Traffic is consistent, it’s busy,” Gelinas said. “Now put that freight line truck on the right hand side of that road – cars have to go around it, they have to cross the double line which is very clearly a hazard and an obstruction. Put a bicyclist right in that spot and the result is disastrous.” 

Bettens died at the scene as a result of serious injuries sustained during the crash. 

At the time of his death, he was an employee of the New Hampshire Department of Corrections working in the Men’s State Prison in Concord. He was an athlete who loved to bike, run and swim and was training for a triathlon. He was a father of two and a veteran of the U.S. Army. 

Jamie Costa

Jamie Costa joined the Monitor in September 2022 as the city reporter covering all things Concord, from crime and law enforcement to City Council and county budgeting. She graduated from Roger Williams University (RWU) in 2018 with a dual degree in journalism and Spanish. While at RWU, Costa covered the 2016 presidential election and studied abroad in both Chile and the Dominican Republic where she reported on social justice and reported on local campus news for the university newspaper, The Hawks' Herald. Her work has also appeared in The *Enterprise *papers and the *Cortland Standard *and surrounding Central New York publications. Costa was born and raised on Cape Cod and has a love for all things outdoors, especially with her dog.

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