Dellinger Admits Guilt in Fatal I-89 Crash; ‘I Wish I Could Have That Day Over Again’ — (Valley News)

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Valley News

By Jordan Cuddemi,  Valley News Staff Writer

Friday, February 20, 2015

Robert Dellinger stands between his attorneys Lucy Karl and Steven Gordon on Feb. 19, 2015, in North Haverhill, N.H. In Grafton County Superior Court, Dellinger pleaded guilty to two counts of negligent homicide in the December 2013 deaths of 24-year-old Amanda Murphy and 29-year-old Jason Timmons of Wilder. Dellinger also pleaded guilty to second-degree assault in the death of Murphy’s fetus.((Valley News – Jennifer Hauck)

Debbie Blanchard cries during a court proceeding at Grafton County Superior Court in North Haverhill, N.H. on Feb. 19, 2015. Blanchard’s son Jason Timmons and his fiancee, Amanda Murphy, were killed in a car accident in 2013 when Robert Dellinger’s pickup truck collided head-on with the couple’s vehicle. Her son, Ray Blanchard is on the right her partner, on the left. Amanda Murphy’s family sits above them in the courtroom. (Valley News – Jennifer Hauck)

New Hampshire Assistant Attorney General Geoffrey Ward,right, objects to a statment made by defense attorney Steven Gordon during a plea hearing in Grafton County Superior Court in North Haverhill, N.H., on Feb. 19, 2015. Robert Dellinger pleaded guilty to two counts of negligent homicide in the December 2013 deaths of 24-year-old Amanda Murphy and 29-year-old Jason Timmons of Wilder. Dellinger also pleaded guilty to second-degree assault in the death of Murphy’s fetus. (Valley News – Jennifer Hauck)

North Haverhill — A Sunapee man admitted he killed a Wilder couple and their unborn child in a 2013 collision on Interstate 89 and expressed remorse for his actions, but denied that it was a suicide attempt.

Robert Dellinger, 54, accepted a plea deal in Grafton County Superior Court on Thursday morning and will be sentenced in April to 12 to 24 years in prison.

He pleaded guilty to two charges of negligent homicide in the deaths of 24-year-old Amanda Murphy, who was eight months pregnant, and her fiancé , 29-year-old Jason Timmons. He also pleaded guilty to second-degree assault in the death of the fetus.

“I wish I could have that day over again,” Dellinger said from the defense table on Thursday. “I would have behaved differently.”

Dellinger originally faced two second-degree murder charges, which each carried a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole. Late last month, prosecutors filed two new negligent homicide charges, which indicated that Dellinger “was under the influence of a controlled drug, as he was withdrawing from the use of Ambien,” a sleep aid.

Prosecutors allege that on Dec. 7, 2013, Dellinger steered his pickup truck into the median of I-89 in Lebanon in a suicide attempt.

But Dellinger, through his defense lawyer on Thursday, said his truck careened across the median because he was suffering from delirium caused by a “toxic regime” of prescription medications.

“I am not real happy about the decision,” Timmons’ mother, Deborah Blanchard, said of the plea agreement via phone on Thursday. “I don’t think anything they could do would ever be enough for me. It has been a really, really tough time for me.”

About a dozen friends and family members of the victims were in the gallery on Thursday, though they declined to comment through a state-appointed victim’s advocate. Prosecutors said they conferred with the family before agreeing to the plea deal.

No one from Dellinger’s family appeared to have attended the hearing.

The court scheduled a tentative two-day sentencing hearing for April 1 and 2.

According to the plea agreement, the state recommended 6 to 12 years on each negligent homicide charge to be served consecutively, for a total capped plea of 12 to 24 years. The state recommended a suspended 3 1/2- to 7-year sentence for the second-degree assault charge.

Dellinger will get pretrial credit for time already served.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys described the plea agreement as a fair outcome.

“The resolution that we agreed to, with respect to the capped plea, is what we think is appropriate,” Assistant Attorney General Geoffrey Ward said before declining further comment. He said the state will outline its rationale at the sentencing hearing.

Defense attorney Steven Gordon said the outcome shows Dellinger is taking responsibility for what happened.

Around 9:15 a.m., Dellinger entered the North Haverhill courthouse and hugged one of his attorneys, Lucy Karl, before taking a seat at the defense table and signing some documents.

Timmons’ and Murphy’s families became visibly emotional when Dellinger entered, some crying softly throughout the proceedings.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys focused on what caused the collision during brief statements on Thursday.

Ward maintained that the crash was a suicide attempt and pointed to Dellinger’s statements made to police officers soon after the crash. Ward acknowledged that a state-hired expert concluded Dellinger was experiencing Ambien withdrawal symptoms that day, but he asserted that Dellinger wasn’t so impaired that he wouldn’t have known what he was saying to police.

Gordon said Dellinger’s mental capacity on that December afternoon was diminished by a number of factors: Ambien withdrawal symptoms; the effects of a psychiatric medication prescribed “far in excess” of the normal dosage, as well as Prozac; and the advanced symptoms of multiple sclerosis. He said Dellinger’s delirium led to the accident, adding that Dellinger wasn’t in a state of mind to assent to being interviewed after the crash.

Ward recounted the day of the accident and days prior in a 10-minute narrative. Dellinger then verbally entered three guilty pleas.

According to Ward’s account, Dellinger’s wife, Deborah, told her husband to leave their Sunapee home on the morning of Dec. 7, 2013, because he was disobeying a doctor’s orders about his sleep needs and curfews. She then moved her vehicle so he could exit the driveway.

After driving around Vermont, Dellinger was on his way back to the Sunapee home around 1:15 p.m. and later told police he started feeling “very depressed … gloomy” and that he wanted to “have a car wreck and kill himself,” Ward said.

It was at about 1:15 p.m. that his red Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck entered the I-89 median at a high rate of speed and exited airborne, shearing off the top of Timmons’ and Murphy’s Ford Escape SUV. The couple died instantly. Dellinger sustained only minor injuries.

Information received from the car’s “black box” showed Dellinger never applied the brakes and hit two guardrails prior to entering the median. Dellinger was taken to the hospital after the crash, and that was when he told police he had been attempting suicide, Ward said.

Three days earlier, police had been called to the Dellingers’ Sunapee home and documented that Dellinger was suffering from Ambien withdrawal symptoms. Deborah Dellinger had flushed and hid his sleeping medication on Dec. 2, Ward said.

Dellinger is a former senior vice president and chief financial officer at PPG Industries Inc., in Pittsburgh, Pa. He was forced to abandon his corporate career in 2011 because of advanced symptoms of multiple sclerosis. He has been held without bail at the Grafton County Jail in North Haverhill since his December 2013 arrest.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248

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