By Eric Francis, Standard Correspondent
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION – A Bridgewater man who police allege was too sleep-deprived to have been driving was formally arraigned this week in connection with a fatal crash that took place in February on Route 4 in West Woodstock. Kenneth Hendrick Jr., 26, of Bridgewater Corners pleaded innocent to a single misdemeanor count of negligent operation of a vehicle with serious injury resulting, a charge that carries a potential maximum of up to two years in jail and/or a fine of up to $3,000 if he were to be convicted. Hendrick appeared Tuesday morning for the brief hearing in a wheelchair due to a broken femur he sustained in the head-on collision, which took place next to the Route 4 intersection with Echo Ledge Road shortly before noon on Friday, Feb. 24.
In paperwork filed with the court, Hendrick wrote that he expects to remain out of work for several more months because of his broken leg.
Woodstock Police Sgt. Joseph Swanson – who had previously told The Standard that he’d methodically ruled out speeding, alcohol, drugs, mechanical defects, and phone usage as factors – detailed in his affidavit why he thought fatigue on Hendrick’s part was behind the crash.
Swanson wrote in his accident report that based on interviews with friends and relatives of Hendrick he was able to put together a timeline of the previous 24-hours prior to the crash.
“When I asked (Hendrick at the crash scene) what had happened he answered that he thought he fell asleep while driving,” Sgt. Swanson wrote, adding, “(Hendrick) reasoned that he did not get much sleep the night before and he had been going since 7:30 a.m.”
Swanson said his investigation determined that Hendrick had worked the 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift at his job, and then had been up until the pre-dawn hours watching movies in Hartland, before traveling from Woodstock to Thetford first thing that Friday morning. After returning to Bridgewater, Swanson wrote, Hendrick left again to pick up a family member in Lebanon and it was on that leg of his journey, as Hendrick was headed
east on Route 4, that the collision occurred.
Swanson said he interviewed two other drivers who witnessed the crash from different directions of travel but said essentially the same thing, that Hendrick’s white Hyundai Sante Fe “suddenly and without warning veered from the east-bound lane into the west-bound lane striking” an on-coming brown Toyota RAV4 driven by 76-year-old William Moeller of Plainfield, New Hampshire.
Moeller, a salesman for fudge-making equipment who was traveling to a trade show in New York, was conscious at the scene and talking to bystanders and first responders who came to his aid but he died later that afternoon at the hospital largely as the result of chest injuries he’d sustained, Swanson explained.
“The absence of skid marks, yaw marks, the absence of intoxicants or drugs and the absence of evidence of ‘texting,’ along with interviews (stating that Hendrick) stayed up most of the night watching movies, all support (Hendrick’s alleged) admission that he fell asleep while driving, causing him to swerve into the oncoming lane and crash” into Moeller, Swanson wrote.
Swanson said that approximately a month after the crash he went to Hendrick’s residence in Bridgewater and interviewed him in person.
“(He) told me that he did not remember anything from the crash,” Swanson wrote, adding that when he explained to Hendrick that he was going to issue traffic tickets, Hendrick allegedly “became argumentative and denied having crossed the center line and caused the crash.”
This article first appeared in the May 11, 2017 edition of the Vermont Standard.