Emma Vieira, in texting accident case, must stay off the road

11:45 AM, Sep 18, 2011   |    comments
Emma Vieira, 18, of Colchester waits with her attorney in the courtroom Friday to hear whether she will be allowed to drive while awaiting trial. Vieira is accused of texting while driving and hitting a pedestrian, who remains in critical condition. The judge denied her request. / JOSHUA LAMBERT, for the Free Press
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A Vermont Superior Court judge Friday denied a request by Emma Vieira, 18, of Colchester that she be allowed to drive while awaiting trial in connection with an Aug. 7 accident in which a pedestrian was struck by her car and critically injured.

"The court ... believes the restriction is a reasonable one in light of her lack of driving experience," Judge Brian Grearson said. "Obviously, this is a serious case."

Vieira is facing a charge of grossly negligent operation of a motor vehicle with serious bodily injury resulting. The accident left the victim, Debbie Drewniak, 53, of Colchester, in critical condition with severe brain and bone injuries.

According to a police affidavit, Vieira's cellphone records show she was involved in a texting conversation with a friend between the time she left home and the time she called 911 to report the accident.

"Emma maintained that she was looking at the road at the time of the impact but also admitted she had been texting and using her phone while driving just before the crash," a portion of the police affidavit said.

Vieira obtained her driver's license only six months before the accident on River Road. The court ordered her to refrain from driving as a condition of release following her Aug. 19 arraignment in the case.

Friday, Vieira's lawyer asked Grearson to lift the no-driving restriction so Vieira could get to her job at a fast-food restaurant and provide transportation to her mother, who has a disability, and a preschool age brother.

The lawyer, John St. Francis, said the no-driving restriction against Vieira was unfairly punitive.

"This accident took place on a poorly lit road," he said. "She didn't see a person in dark-colored clothes walking a dark-colored dog with a black leash."

Chittenden County State's Attorney Thomas J. Donovan urged Grearson to reject St. Francis' request.

"The irony is not lost on the state when we hear talk about the disruption this restriction has been on Ms. Vieira's life," Donovan said. "The state would be remiss if it did not talk about the disruption to the victim, who has a significant brain injury and is in critical care."

Ten relatives and friends of Drewniak attended Friday's hearing, some holding signs that read "Driving is a privilege not a right. Vermont has a law: no texting while driving." Friday also happened to be Debbie Drewniak's 53rd birthday.

Liz Brigante, Drewniak's sister, said she was glad the judge did not lift the driving restriction for Vieira.

"We are extremely happy with the outcome," Brigante said. "No way should Emma be allowed to drive on the road."

Vieira, through St. Francis, declined comment following the hearing.

"She feels terrible about this," St. Francis said. "She is very concerned for Ms. Drewniak and is hoping she makes a full and complete recovery. This was an unfortunate tragedy but it is an accident, not a crime."

Earlier in the day, St. Francis filed a motion with the court alleging the state lacks the evidence to support the charge against Vieira and asking it to reconsider its decision to find probable cause in the case.

A fundraiser to help with Drewniak's health care expenses is set for Oct. 13 at the Old Lantern in Charlotte.

Contact Sam Hemingway at 660-1850 or email atshemingway@burlingtonfreepress.com. Follow Sam on Twitter atwww.twitter.com/Samuel