A year later, fatal accident in Weare not forgotten

  • The memorial in honor of Trevor Paul Gonyer who died last year in a car accident on route 114 across from Cold Springs RV in Weare, NH. July 15, 2016 (JENNIFER MELI / Monitor Staff) —JENNIFER MELI

  • The memorial in honor of Trevor Gonyer in Weare. JENNIFER MELI / Monitor staff

  • Gonyer

Monitor staff
Published: 7/17/2016 11:13:48 PM

While the community mourns a Dunbarton teenager on the one-year anniversary of his death, authorities prepare for the upcoming trial of his friend who they say was driving the night of the fatal crash.

Trevor Gonyer, 17, was ejected from a 1997 GMC pickup truck, which crashed on Route 114 in Weare in the early-morning hours of July 3, 2015. Police say Gonyer was one of two passengers in the truck driven by Benjamin Cook. The other was Aaron Hodgdon of Weare.

Cook, 18, of Milford is scheduled to stand trial in Hillsborough County Superior Court in Manchester in November on charges of negligent homicide, aggravated driving while intoxicated and driving after license suspension. He has been out of jail on bail conditions since late February.

A roadside memorial to Gonyer was built in the grass near the crash scene. American flags, an angel, flowers and a necklace with a cross mark the spot. The permanent reminder of the life lost is a granite block with Gonyer’s picture and the inscription “Loving son, brother and best friend. Forever in Our hearts.”

Those who knew the three teens are searching for closure – in whatever form that may come. That includes Goyner’s ex-girlfriend and close friend Ashley Holt, who was one of the last people to see Gonyer alive before the crash.

But many details about that night, including a police officer’s attempt to pull the truck over before it careened away, have been kept out of the public eye.

Authorities continue to withhold public records related to the high-speed crash, citing their criminal investigation and Cook’s right to a fair trial.

Cook’s attorney, Tony Soltani, said the case will “most likely” proceed to trial because of “the nature of the charges that the state has brought against (Cook).” Soltani maintains that there is no evidence or eyewitness accounts to show definitively who was behind the wheel.

However, the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office alleges that Cook negligently caused Gonyer’s death when he drove the truck in speeds in excess of 75 mph without the headlights on while intoxicated. Cook had a blood alcohol level of 0.12 percent, well above the 0.02 percent that is legal for drivers younger than 21.

Authorities have previously said Gonyer, Cook and Hodgdon were leaving a closed business when New Boston police Officer Stephen Case spotted them with a broken taillight and began a pursuit. They reported that Cook sped off, crossing about two miles into Weare and rolling the truck near an RV dealership.

Cook and Hodgdon suffered serious injuries. A dog named “Leo” was also thrown from the truck and had to be euthanized.

Lives change

The events of July 3 changed the life of Ashley Holt, 19, of Weare in more ways than she ever could have imagined, she told the Monitor. The night still haunts her, as she was one of the last people to see the three teens at Milwaukee Iron Works in New Boston before the crash.

Holt is Hodgdon’s cousin and met Gonyer her sophomore year in high school. Gonyer and Holt dated for a brief time during a friendship that spanned almost three years.

“He was always there for everybody,” Holt said of Gonyer. She described him as very giving, funny, daring, a busybody and a lover of the outdoors.

This July 3, Holt lit Chinese lanterns with Gonyer’s family and friends and enjoyed an evening cookout. But they didn’t talk about why they had gathered that day.

“It’s not something that we like to talk about often,” she said.

While loved ones do visit the crash scene to remember Gonyer, Holt said she doesn’t like to because it brings back too many bad and vivid memories of one year ago.

“I don’t wish this on anybody, but I’m very fortunate for the way that this turned out, like I’m so close to his family now,” she said. “His parents are like my parents.”

Holt said the crash brought her and Hodgdon closer together, too. However, she said, she hasn’t spoken with Cook.

The next time she sees him may be from the witness stand at his trial. She said she’s nervous to testify because she’s never done it before, but added, “I feel like it’ll be okay.”

“That’s all I have to do is tell my story and what I know.”

She declined to discuss the events of July 3 and what she witnessed because of the pending court case against Cook. She said she also worries about others twisting her words so she feels safer staying quiet for now.

“I don’t really want to comment on that night, because we’re dealing with it. Court hasn’t happened. I will say that there were a lot of things that I wish I had done, and a lot of things that I wish I’d done differently, but it is what it is.”

Official record

Any independent analysis of what happened that night has been refused by police and prosecutors.

The Monitor filed numerous right-to-know requests to shed light on the moments before the Chevy truck rolled over.

Officials from New Boston, Bow, Weare and state police initially denied access to accident reports, audio dispatch calls, video from a nearby business, video from a Weare police cruiser cam, and even the New Boston policy on high-speed police pursuit because the crash was under investigation.

After Cook was indicted in February and the investigation was complete, the Monitor asked for the records again and was denied, this time by the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office.

“Release of this evidence prior to trial could potentially compromise the defendant’s rights and State’s ability to prosecute this case,” Hillsborough County Attorney Dennis Hogan wrote.

The state’s open records law does exempt investigative files, but it doesn’t list someone’s right to a fair trial as a reason to withhold public records.

“Once they make the arrest, I think the whole equation changes and they have to have a very specific reason to protect these records,” said attorney Bill Chapman, who represents the Monitor in right-to-know cases, but has taken no active role in this one.

The town of New Boston later released its pursuit policy in February, which states that “high-risk pursuit” is only justified when the officer knows or has reasonable grounds to believe that “the violator has committed or has attempted to commit a serious felony involving crimes against persons” or “the officer has a reasonable basis to believe that death or serious bodily injury will result if the violator is not apprehended.”

The policy goes on to state officers must get permission from the chief of police or another superior officer before crossing into another town. If the chief or superior officer are unable to be reached, the officer is to cease the chase, according to the policy.

But New Boston police Chief James Brace said that policy may not necessarily apply because it wasn’t exactly a high-speed pursuit. Police have said the truck sped away from Case and he lost sight of it before the rollover. He discovered the scene as he turned around to go back to New Boston, state police reported. Still, Brace didn’t want to talk about specific details, citing the upcoming trial.

“It’s not that we’re trying to hide anything. I don’t want to say anything to predispose his right to a fair trial,” Brace said. “As the facts play out, the person who is responsible for Trevor’s death will be held accountable.”

Seeking justice

Holt said she wants justice and toward that aim has willingly provided investigators with all she knows.

“When something like this happens, it obviously takes a while and that can’t be helped,” she said of the legal process to date.

But that time has allowed her to reflect on the lessons of that night, in more ways than one. And while don’t drink and drive is an obvious one, other takeaways are more deep and personal.

“It definitely feels good to be able to depend on people, but it makes you put a guard up, too,” she said. “You don’t want to get too close to somebody because you don’t know when they’ll be taken away.”

(Jonathan Van Fleet contributed to this report.)

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