Trial for Lyndeborough teen who struck, killed pedestrian underway 

  • Grace Wight and her attorney James Rosenberg listen to testimony in Superior Court in Manchester. Staff photo by Abby Kessler

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, January 17, 2018 6:1PM

Guntis Grabazs said he and his wife were on their way home from a Los Lobos concert in Massachusetts when he looked in his rearview mirror and saw sparks flying.

It was a hot summer night in 2016 and the two were right around three miles away from their home in Lyndeborough. The car had been having difficulty the entire way home, and by the time sparks started flying, it was the early hours of July 15.

Grabazs said he and his wife Debess Rogers talked about calling a neighbor to come pick them up, but Rogers insisted that she didn’t want to wake her friends up. So with a new lantern that Grabazs had been gifted on Father’s Day, the two set out walking down Route 31  toward their home.

While walking on Center Road, Grabazs’ k nee started hurting and he asked his wife to walk ahead, get a vehicle, and swing back to pick him up. Rogers untied a sweatshirt she had wrapped around her waist and gave it to Grabazs to keep the mosquitoes off while he waited. Grabazs handed his wife the lantern and then gave his high school sweetheart a kiss goodbye. She took off down the narrow, winding road.

“She had the bright lantern in her hand, and that’s the last I saw her,” Grabazs said during a testimony in Superior Court in Manchester on Tuesday.

Rogers was struck by a pickup truck driven by then 17-year-old Grace Wight of Lyndeborough. Rogers was pronounced dead at the scene. She was 60.

Wight, who is now 19, faces two felony charges including a negligent homicide and a reckless conduct with a deadly weapon, and a misdemeanor for vehicular assault. Wight has entered a plea of not guilty. 

After his wife set off down the road, Grabazs said he found a stone wall and plopped down on a rock that looked fairly flat.

He watched a Subaru pass and made an observation that it was going slightly over the 30 mph speed limit. Not long after, Grabazs said he watched a dark pickup whiz by at a speed so fast that it was only a blur.

“I thought the person driving that vehicle was totally out of control and I thought it was going to crash at any time because it was going that fast,” Grabazs said about the dark-colored pickup that ended up striking his wife.

The next vehicle Grabazs saw from his perch had lights on its grill and he assumed it was an emergency fire vehicle and later two state troopers flashed by. Grabazs assumed something horrible had happened, maybe the pickup had gone off the road, he thought.

He started walking down the road to see what had happened. Grabazs said he eventually rounded a corner and saw flashing lights on Mountain Road ahead. A trooper approached him and Grabazs told him the story of how he and his wife had broken down and how she was retrieving a car.

The officer asked what his wife’s name is. Grabazs told the officer.

“And they said, ‘we’re sorry to inform you that Debess Rogers is deceased,” Grabazs said recalling the moment through tears on the stand. “It felt like half my soul left me.”

Grabazs said he wanted to see his wife, to be close to her, but officers said he couldn’t because it was a crime scene. Grabazs slumped his weight against a pickup truck and started to cry instead.

Prosecutors argue that speed played a role in the accident. State Trooper First Class Michael Pelletier, who worked on the accident reconstruction in this case, determined that the truck Wight was driving that night was traveling more than 60 mph, well above the speed limit. Prosecutors have also looked into texting as a possible cause of the crash, although phone records indicate the last message Wight sent was about 11 minutes prior to the accident.

James Rosenberg, Wight’s attorney, is arguing that Wight fell asleep at the wheel the night she hit Rogers.

To underscore his argument, Rosenberg played a clip of Wight talking to a 911 dispatcher moments after the crash occurred during the trial on Tuesday. Wight told the dispatcher that night that she was on her way home from a friend’s house the night of the crash.

“I was coming home from being with her and I dozed off and I woke up and hit ... I screamed, ‘Oh my God,’ and I hit someone” Wight said, her voice shaking in the recording.

At one point during the tape, Wight stops talking and takes Rogers’ pulse.

“Are you awake? Please tell me you're awake,” Wight says in distress on the tape.

Wight started crying in court on Tuesday while listening to the tape, wiping tears away with a tissue that she had crushed in her hand.

Rosenberg shut the recording of the tape off not long after, explaining to the jury that the recording goes on for quite some time. He made the point that Wight told the dispatcher four times that she had fallen asleep at the wheel during that conversation.

In opening statements, Rosenberg said the state’s case is “replete with the state’s slow, sluggish, and inaccurate work.”

Rosenberg said the trooper used reconstruction methods to determine Wight’s speed that night. The problem is, the trooper waited months to recreate the accident in different weather conditions, on a different road, and in a vehicle that had been sitting for months.

“And the months tick by, the accident happened on July 15 but Trooper Pelletier didn’t complete his accident reconstruction report for about five months,” Rosenberg said.

Wight’s trial will continue throughout this week and may even spill over into the following week.

Abby Kessler can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 234 or akessler@ledgertranscript.com.