Charges dropped in negligent homicide case stemming from fatal crash 

  • 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)

Monitor staff
Published: 3/3/2017 11:18:54 PM

All charges have been dropped against a Milford man accused of killing his friend in an alcohol-related crash in Weare in 2015.

Ben Cook, 20, was facing charges of negligent homicide, aggravated driving while intoxicated and driving after license suspension, but all charges were dismissed after Cook’s public defender argued the state had no way to prove he was the driver of the truck in the fatal crash.

All three charges stemmed from the July 3, 2015, crash on Route 114 in Weare that killed Trevor Gonyer, 17, of Dunbarton. Another teenager, Aaron Hodgdon, was also in the vehicle.

Last month, Cook’s public defender, Julian Jefferson, argued that there simply was not enough objective physical evidence to determine Cook was the one driving the truck when it crashed.

Jefferson also argued the court should exclude any evidence or testimony by New Hampshire State Police Trooper Christopher Storm – the crash investigator – that would place Cook behind the wheel.

“Trooper Storm, relying upon objective physical evidence, cannot say with certainty that Benjamin Cook was the driver of the pickup truck,” Jefferson wrote in a motion filed last month.

The Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office was alleging 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’s blood alcohol level at the time was 0.12 percent, well above the 0.02 percent legal for drivers under 21.

Storm had previously surmised Cook was the driver of the car due to injuries he had sustained on his left side, according to court documents.

According to a court affidavit, Storm visited Cook at Manchester’s Elliot Hospital in 2015, where he was being treated, and noted “significant injuries to the left side” of his body. Hodgdon, who was at the same facility, had “extensive injuries to the right side of his body.”

“These injuries to Mr. Cook will help show where Mr. Cook’s position within the vehicle was during the collision,” Storm wrote.

While Hodgdon told Storm the last thing he remembered was Cook in the driver’s seat while the truck was parked in a driveway, he said he could not remember who was driving the vehicle, or even remember leaving the driveway and entering the road.

Another witness, Ashley Holt, told Storm she remembered Cook was the last person she saw with the keys to the pickup truck, but Holt was not in the vehicle at the time of the crash.

Cook, Gonyer and Hodgdon were all riding in the pick-up truck without seatbelts, crashed at a high rate of speed and were all ejected from the vehicle and taken to the hospital before Storm arrived on scene. Therefore, Jefferson argued there was no way Storm could definitively conclude who was the driver based on the evidence at the scene.

“The pickup truck in this matter rolled an unknown number of times,” Jefferson wrote. “The pickup truck flipped an unknown number of times. The truck was likely airborne at points during this rollover event.”

Jefferson deposed Storm on Feb. 7. Even though Storm was a full-time member of the N.H. State Police Collision Analysis and Reconstruction Unit, he told Jefferson during that deposition that he had no formal training in rollover crashes resulting in multiple ejections and confirmed he had no training in forensic pathology.

“Trooper Storm does not know when the injuries (for any of the three occupants) occurred,” Jefferson wrote. “He does not know if injuries were sustained while the occupants were moving around in the vehicle during the rollover event. He does not know if injuries were sustained during the ejection. He does not know if any of the injuries were sustained during landing in the marshy area (that contained heavy brush, rocks and trees).”

Cook was scheduled to stand trial later this month in Hillsborough County Superior Court in Manchester, but was postponed after he switched attorneys.

Cook was previously being represented by Tony Soltani of Epsom, but switched to Jefferson as his public defender when his family could no longer afford a private attorney. The trial date was postponed in November to give Jefferson more time to prepare.

Jefferson did not return a request for comment on Friday.

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)

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