Plea negotiations reach stalemate in Concord fatal driving case

  • Jessica Warren. Concord police

  • Patrick Bettens

Monitor staff
Published: 7/31/2020 3:01:41 PM

Negotiations to resolve criminal charges against the driver accused of striking and killing a bicyclist in Concord in September 2018 have reached an impasse.

Merrimack County prosecutors and attorneys for Jessica Warren have attempted to reach an agreement to settle the felony operating after suspension case, but say they’ve exhausted all avenues and are now seeking the help of a judge to resolve the matter without a trial.

Warren, 43, of Penacook was indicted this past December on one count of driving after suspension in connection with the Sept. 5, 2018, crash that killed Sgt. Patrick Bettens, a longtime state Department of Corrections employee. Investigators say Warren’s license was suspended at the time of the crash on North State Street.

Court documents filed in recent days in Merrimack County Superior Court disclose that prosecutors are seeking a state prison sentence for Warren, although the specifics of their offer are not part of the public record. Warren’s attorneys have countered the offer, but the parties have been unable to find a middle ground. As a result, they’ve requested a settlement conference before Superior Court Judge David Garfunkel, who is not the assigned trial judge.

A felony settlement conference is a confidential process managed by a judge who is different than the one hearing the case. The parties and any individuals whom attorneys identify, including the victim’s family, meet in a closed courtroom, where the judge helps them evaluate the risks of going to trial and the legal issues, as well as communicate their options for resolution.

In an order, dated July 24, presiding Judge Andrew Schulman wrote that he would schedule a status conference for late fall to check in with attorneys about how the case is progressing.

“This is a driving after suspension with death resulting case,” Schulman wrote. “The facts of the driving are, at most, violation level infractions, suggesting civil rather than criminal negligence.”

Police initially charged Warren with misdemeanor counts of vehicular assault and operating after suspension. After a further review of the case by the county attorney’s office, a felony charge was brought more than one year after the crash.

Under state law, a motorist operating after suspension can be charged with a Class B felony – punishable by up to seven years in state prison – if the driver is involved in a serious collision. While prosecutors have to prove that the person’s “unlawful operation of the motor vehicle caused or materially contributed to the crash,” any violation of the rules of the road can be considered as evidence against the defendant.

Warren was previously convicted in January 2018 of a misdemeanor count of operating after suspension. Nevertheless, police say she drove a Honda Odyssey north on North State Street on Sept. 5, 2018 and caused the crash that ended Bettens’s life.

That morning, Bettens, 41, of Concord was riding his bicycle north when Warren’s vehicle struck him from behind, police said. Bettens had moved into the road to avoid a UPS truck parked in the bike lane, according to witness statements.

Warren’s Honda Odyssey hit Bettens’s bike tire, which caused him to fall of the bike and into the path of her vehicle. Witnesses reported that the Honda Odyssey then jumped the curb and headed back across the road, striking another vehicle.

The crash was reported on North State Street between Tenney Street and Parmenter Road just before 11 a.m.

Bettens, who previously served in the U.S. Army, worked at the New Hampshire State Prison for Men in Concord. An athlete who loved to bike, run and swim, he was training for a triathlon when he was killed.

This past October, family members, friends and co-workers came together at New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord for a 5K road race in memory of Bettens. All proceeds from the race were deposited into a college fund for his two sons.


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