DRIVER FACES CRIMINAL CHARGES AFTER FATAL BERKSHIRE CRASH


By Gregory J. Lamoureux
County Courier

BERKSHIRE: According to the Vermont State Police, Derrick Johnson was intoxicated behind the wheel just after midnight when he lost control and crashed a four-door Honda sedan on Water Tower road in Berkshire on Tuesday. According to court records, that vehicle was owned by Sue Courchaine of Eden.

When police arrived, rescue crews had already removed the occupants of the vehicle and were attending to them medically, according to police.

Derrick Johnson, 21, of Richford is lead into Franklin Criminal Court by Public Defender Steve Dunham on Tuesday afternoon. Gregory J. Lamoureux, County Courier

Police believe Johnson had three passengers with him, his girlfriend, Lee Courchaine and two male friends, Michael Paquette and Adam Sylvester.

When asked how fast he was traveling, Johnson told the trooper between 70-80 miles per hour. He also told the trooper that road conditions played a part in the crash.

Trooper Nathan Quealy wrote in a statement to the court that Sylvester, who was seated in the rear passenger seat at the time of the crash, sustained the most major injuries.

“As of the writing of this affidavit Sylvester is in critical condition, is scheduled to have an arm amputated, (and) is believed to have sustained a traumatic brain injury. (Sylvester) is still unconscious and unresponsive. His current condition is a direct result of the injuries he sustained as a result of the crash,” wrote Trooper Quealy.

Quealy updated Sylvester’s condition early Wednesday morning after he succumbed to his injuries at UVM Medical Center.

Johnson was held on $100,000 bail at Northwest Correctional Center in St. Albans until his arraignment on Tuesday afternoon. He was charged with DUI with serious injuries resulting, reckless endangerment, and Grossly Negligent Operation of a Motor Vehicle.

He was released on $25,000 unsecured bond as well as conditions including he does not contact anybody directly related to the crash, he does not consume any alcohol, he does not drive under any circumstance, as well as a 24-hour curfew that will be ordered through his current probation officer.

All totaled, Johnson faces up to 31 years and a fine up to $26,000 if convicted on all counts.

The charges and total years may change now that the DUI can be filed as a death resulting case, instead of a serious injury case.

Johnson provided police with a preliminary breath test, indicating his blood/alcohol content was 0.143%, approximately 40 minutes after the crash. That’s more than one and a half times the legal limit for driving on Vermont roads.

Johnson provided another breath test, this time about two hours and 10 minutes after the crash, where the machine indicated he was still under the influence with a BAC of 0.112%.

When police initially asked Johnson if he had anything to drink that evening, Johnson told police he had one or two beers, about 3 hours before the crash. As the officer continued to question Johnson, that story changed to two or three beers and later changed again to about 10 bud light cans and bottles.

Quealy reported finding about a half a dozen empty beer cans inside the vehicle.

Quealy described four indications of Johnson’s impairment as he asked Johnson to walk a straight line including an inability to walk without using his arms for balance, did not touch heel to toe, an incorrect number of steps, and lost balance while turning.

Quealy said he asked Johnson to balance on one leg but he was unable to do so without putting his other foot down and required putting his arms out for balance.

Johnson told Quealy he was traveling to Enosburgh from Richford when the crash happened, according to the trooper, but couldn’t remember how long they had been traveling.

Johnson was serving probation for possession of stolen property valued at more than $900, according to public records.

This is at least the fourth fatal crash on Franklin County roadways in six weeks.

There were three fatal crashes in April, killing Raymond Barrett, 74, of Swanton, Michael Smith, 33, of Berkshire, and Ada Sorenson, 16, of Fairfax.

VARSITY SPORTS PAIRINGS

BFA ST. ALBANS

Baseball: The Tenth-seeded Bobwhites travel to seventh-seeded Essex on Tuesday. The winner of that game will likely travel to second-seeded Brattleboro on Friday, assuming Brattleboro defeats fifteenth-seeded Lyndon on Tuesday.

Softball: The Comets picked up a seventh-seed with a 12-4 regular season record. On Tuesday they will host tenth-seeded Rutland at 4:30. The winner will likely travel to second-seeded Mt. Anthony on Friday for the quarterfinals.

Boys Lacrosse: With a third-seed in the tournament, the Bobwhites advance to the quarterfinal with a bye, hosting the winner of Tuesday’s sixth-seeded Burlington and eleventh-seeded Brattleboro.

Girls Lacrosse: With a 6-7 record, the Comets earned an eighth-seed and a home playoff game on Wednesday, hosting ninth-seeded MMU at 4:30. The winner advances to take on top-seeded CVU Saturday.

BFA FAIRFAX

Baseball: The Eighth-seeded Bullets picked up a home playoff game with a playdown on Tuesday at 4:30, hosting ninth-seeded Vergennes. The winner will travel to top-seeded Windsor on Friday for the quarterfinal round.

Softball: The Bullets picked up a bye in the first round with a fifth seed, advancing to the quarterfinals on Saturday, traveling to fourth-seeded Leland & Gray. The winner of that game will likely travel to Green Mountain in the semifinals.

ENOSBURG

Baseball: Picking up the fourth seed in Division II, the Hornets will host thirteenth-seeded Mill River Union High School on Wednesday at 4:30 pm. If the Hornets win, they will likely host fifth-seeded Fair Haven, unless they lose to twelfth-seeded Mt. Abe.

Softball: Much like their male counterparts, the Lady Hornets picked up a key fourth seed, the Hornets will host thirteenth seeded Rice on Tuesday at 4:30. The winner will advance to the quarterfinal, likely playing fifth-seeded Springfield on Friday at 4:30.

MISSISQUOI VALLEY UNION HIGH SCHOOL

Baseball: The Thunderbirds earned a home game with a final regular season record of 7-9. On Tuesday they will host Hartford at 4:30. The winner will likely travel to Lamoille on Friday.

Softball: With a 13-3 record, the eighth-seeded Thunderbirds host ninth-seeded South Burlington on Tuesday at 4:30. The winner will advance, likely traveling to Essex on Friday.

RICHFORD

Baseball: The fourteenth-seeded Falcons travel to third-seeded Oxbow on Tuesday in the opening round of the Division III playoffs. The winner will likely take on Randolph on Friday.

Softball: The Rockets picked up the seventh seed and a home playoff on Tuesday against tenth-seeded Williamstown.

HIGHGATE MURDER SUSPECT CONFIRMS MOTHER’S STORY

Erika Guittilla appears in Franklin County Criminal Court on Murder charges on Tuesday. Gregory J. Lamoureux, County Courier

ST. ALBANS: When police arrested CoreyCassani and Erika Guittilla early this morning, Cassani refused to answer questions, according to police, but Guittilla was open with police about the murder of Troy Ford and confirmed to investigators what her mother had told police a little more than 24 hours earlier.

Troy Ford poses from a picture supplied by Ford’s family.

Erika Guittilla told police that she was the one who pulled the trigger that killed Ford, just before Ford’s December birthday.

She also told investigators that she and her mother wrapped Ford up in plastic before sliding his corpse into a recycling container located on their back porch.

Erika is charged with First Degree Murder, which holds a possibility of life in prison, as well as obstructing justice, which holds a maximum of five years in prison.

RELATED:
• HUMAN REMAINS SPARK INVESTIGATION IN HIGHGATE
• ONE ARRESTED, TWO ON THE RUN AFTER HIGHGATE MURDER
• 
AFFIDAVIT: POLICE LEARNED OF HIGHGATE MURDER THREE WEEKS AGO
• POLICE TELL HOW THEY CAUGHT FLEEING MURDER SUSPECT

Cassani, Erika’s boyfriend, is charged with a felony count of being an accessory after the fact, unauthorized removal of a dead body, and obstruction of justice. All told he is facing up to 17 years and $7,000 in fines.

Newly released information on the case indicated that police, on Monday, were able to find the mattress that Ford was sleeping on when he was shot, dumped outside of the Guittilla home.

Corey Casanni speaks with his attorney in court on Tuesday. Gregory J. Lamoureux, County Courier

Cassani pleaded not guilty in Franklin County District Court on Tuesday afternoon, where the judge ordered him held on $50,000 bail.

Guittilla took advantage of an infrequently used rule in Vermont’s criminal court system, which allows defendants to come back to court the following day before formally entering their plea.

The Judge held her without bail pending that hearing.

The family of Ford was sitting in the back of the courtroom, watching as the two defendants were led in shackles to their initial hearing.

The County Courier will keep you informed of additional details as the story continues to unfold.

POLICE TELL HOW THEY CAUGHT MURDER SUSPECTS FLEEING

Corey Cassani and Erika Gottilla in their mug shots Tuesday morning. Courtesy Vermont State Police

By Gregory J. Lamoureux
County Courier

SOUTH BURLINGTON: Police arrested Erika Gottilla and Corey Cassani early this morning while they tried to flee the area, according to Vermont State Police spokesman Adam Silverman.

The pair were wanted in connection with a murder in Highgate, linked to the body found on Saturday in a wooded recreation area.

According to Silverman, police began following the pair after the discovery on Monday, May 7, of the abandoned Chevrolet Spark in Swanton, detectives with the Vermont State Police learned of other potential vehicles that Erika Guttilla and Corey Cassani might be using.

RELATED:
• AFFIDAVIT: POLICE LEARNED OF HIGHGATE MURDER THREE WEEKS AGO
• HUMAN REMAINS SPARK INVESTIGATION IN HIGHGATE
• ONE ARRESTED, TWO ON THE RUN AFTER HIGHGATE MURDER

That is when State Police issued an officer-safety bulletin to all Vermont law-enforcement agencies to be on the lookout for those vehicles. At the same time, plainclothes detectives in unmarked vehicles began seeking the cars in question.

The job of police officers is to keep citizens safe from danger. As things escalate, the role of protecting visitors and staff safe in municipal buildings, schools, hospitals and other buildings keeps getting harder. What the police force aim to do to make their job a little easier is to start using an emergency notification system. Something that will allow them to improve the communication throughout an incident. As soon as the system is triggered, a detailed alarm message indicating the location of the incident is transmitted by radio, email, text, telephone and/or to other security systems. It will aim to make facilities safer in critical conditions.

First responders are notified of the emergency immediately without any dispatch delay or confusion.

Silverman wrote, in a release on Tuesday, that police observed one of the vehicles potentially connected to Guttilla and Cassani this morning, at about 1 am in South Burlington. The detective traced the vehicle to a motel on Shelburne Road in South Burlington, where surveillance was initiated.

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“The vehicle departed the motel at about 2 a.m. and was subsequently stopped on U.S. Route 7 in South Burlington just north of the Shelburne town line. Members of the Vermont State Police, along with Shelburne and South Burlington police and FBI agents, conducted a high-risk stop. The vehicle pulled over immediately and Guttilla and Cassani were taken into custody without incident.” said Silverman.

The Vermont State Police detectives are working with the Franklin County State’s Attorney’s Office to finalize charges for an arraignment, expected later today.

The County Courier will follow today’s arraignments and post more information when it becomes available.

AFFIDAVIT: POLICE LEARNED OF HIGHGATE MURDER THREE WEEKS AGO

Carmen Guttilla is lead into Chittenden County Superior Court on Monday for her arraignment in connection with a murder in Highgate in 2017. Pool photo by Glenn Russell, Burlington Free Press

By Gregory J. Lamoureux
County Courier

Editor’s Note: Some accounts of the murder in Highgate could be considered graphic. Reader discretion is advised.

Prosecutors arraigned Carmen Guttilla, 60, of Highgate in Chittenden County Superior Court on Monday in connection with a murder in Highgate late in 2017.

Guttilla had been held, since her arrest on Sunday, at Chittenden County Correctional Center. Most women who are arrested in Franklin County are transported to the Chittenden County facility before their arraignments.

Guttilla pleaded not guilty on Monday to being an accomplice in the murder of Troy Ford, a felony that could land her in prison for the rest of her life.

According to newly filed court papers, Guttilla is accused of assisting her daughter with the disposal of Ford’s body and covering up the crime.

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Ford’s body was discovered in a wooded area off Darlene Drive in Highgate. The murder is suspected to have taken place at Carmen Guttilla’s home, just three-tenths of a mile away on Charles Circle.

According to Assistant State’s Attorney John Lavoie, Ford’s body was initially tossed into a garbage bin outside the Guttilla’s home, in November, where it stayed for about a month until the mother and daughter disposed of it in the wooded area just down the road.

Police were initially tipped off to the crime by an inmate at Northwest Correctional Center on April 12th, when Edward Bennett told police that he knew of a murder in Highgate.

Bennett told the detective that Erika Guttilla had bragged recently she shot a black man, then showed him the gun that was used.

Bennett told police it looked like a .380 or a 38 Special but wasn’t sure which one or which make or model.

Bennett then told police that he was inside the residence where the murder took place when Erika showed him a “big ass blood stain on the bed and chunks of brain on the bed frame.”

According to Bennett, Erika had planned to dispose of the body by either waiting until it warmed up to bury him in her backyard or dispose of him in the woods.

Bennett continued to tell police that Erika had left the crime scene virtually untouched, with blood and bodily fluids throughout the bedroom.

According to police, Bennett recalled Erika’s motive for the murder as physical, sexual, and mental abuse- and Erika had had enough.

Police began investigating the alleged murder of Ford, by looking through a records database in an attempt to find a last known location of him, but were unsuccessful. The Detective on the case, John MacCallum, also tried calling his telephone number, but without anyone answering, all he could do was leave a message, which he said was never returned.

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Police also contacted Ford’s sister, who lives in New York City to see if she had heard from him. According to the police affidavit, she had not heard from him since he was in prison in Vermont.

Fast forward to Saturday, when two residents who had been walking their dogs, on Darlene Drive, called police to report they came across what they believed to be human remains in a wooded area close to the roadway.

Members of the Vermont State Police Crime Scene Search Team recovered the remains of a body, which was wrapped up in a red sheet and dumped under a pine tree in an overgrown playground just over a quarter of a mile away from the Guttilla’s home.

About six hours after police responded to the scene, a second neighbor came to the police to report information that may help officers.

Police search a wooded area off Darlene Circle for evidence on Sunday afternoon. Courtesy Photo

The neighbor, David Greenwood, told police he had a conversation with an acquaintance about two months ago, where he learned that Erika had killed a black man in her mother’s home. According to Greenwood’s account, the story was that she had shot the man in the head.

As is the protocol for crime scene integrity, two troopers stayed at the scene all night on Saturday to make sure nothing was disturbed. According to police, the red Chevrolet Spark that police later named as the getaway vehicle drove by the scene where the body had been dropped.

On Sunday, while police crews were searching for evidence left behind at the dump site, detectives went to 161 Charles Circle, the home of Carmen Guttilla to assist in the execution of a search warrant. While there, Melissa Guttilla, sister to Erika, drove up out front and agreed to be interviewed by police.

Investigators combed through mattresses left outside the Guttilla family home at 161 Charles Circle in Highgate on Monday afternoon. Gregory J. Lamoureux, County Courier

During that interview, Melissa allegedly told police she was aware that Erika had shot a man that went by the name of “Don.” She told police that the man was originally from New York and was Erika’s drug dealer. When she was shown a picture of Ford, she told police that it looked like “Don.”

According to Melissa, “Don” was known to smoke marijuana in the home, was abusive to Erika, and would do “terrible things” to Erika.

Melissa then agreed to a recorded telephone call with Erika. According to court files, Erika told her sister during one of those telephone calls that she had disposed of the weapon in the past day or so.

RELATED:
• HUMAN REMAINS SPARK INVESTIGATION IN HIGHGATE
• ONE ARRESTED, TWO ON THE RUN AFTER HIGHGATE MURDER
• 
AFFIDAVIT: POLICE LEARNED OF HIGHGATE MURDER THREE WEEKS AGO
• POLICE TELL HOW THEY CAUGHT FLEEING MURDER SUSPECT
• 
HIGHGATE MURDER SUSPECT CONFIRMS MOTHER’S STORY
• HIGHGATE MURDER AFFIDAVIT

It is unclear how much evidence was left once police showed up at the home. According to the court file, during one of the telephone calls recorded by police, Corey Cassini can allegedly be heard responding to a question of, if the room had been cleaned up, with the reply “Yup, it’s all good.”

Police also interviewed Erika’s brother, Dakota Guttilla, who told police he was at the home a handful of months ago when Erika and “Don” began fighting. That fight allegedly turned into “Don” hitting Erika with a Hennessy bottle.

The time frame for that altercation was unclear, but Dakota told police it was cold outside and before the snow fell.

Dakota told police that he left the house and returned later, only to be told by his mother (Carmen) that they had taken care of the situation, “Don is gone,” Dakota recalled.

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Things didn’t add up for Dakota, according to his testimony with police. He began suspecting that Erika had actually killed the man.

Dakota told police that the man had outgrown his welcome and the family wanted him gone.

Dakota went on to tell police that he didn’t believe his sister was a serial killer, but that if she had killed the man it was because “Don pushed her and everyone else to the edge.”

Dakota also told police that when he was at the home recently, he saw a mattress outside that had formerly been in Erika’s room. He told police that he saw something red on it that he now believes to be blood.

According to the brother, Erika and her new boyfriend, Corey Cassani, were at the home about four days ago, cleaning out the bedroom and smoking crack cocaine.

Detectives were finally able to catch up with Carmen Guttilla, Erika’s mother, at the Vermont State Liquor Store in Swanton, on Sunday evening. Police watched her lock up, they followed her vehicle in their two unmarked police cruisers from Swanton to The Tyler Place where she walked around the water for about 15 minutes before getting back into her car and driving to the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington.

That is where police confronted her and asked if she would talk to them.

“Carmen advised she knew we were following her and she was ready to talk to us,” wrote Detective Seargent Angela Baker. “She said ‘the situation’ has been going on for two years with ‘this man’ and he did ‘terrible things.'”

Carmen would end up giving herself up to police and confessing in a UVM Medical Center Quiet Room, according to the detectives.

She told police that “the incident” took place before Thanksgiving when her daughter came to her and said she couldn’t put up with him anymore.

“Either Erika or myself would have done it that night,” Carmen told police, “it took all night and the next morning it was done.”

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‘It’ was allegedly shooting Ford in the head with the gun that Carmen used to protect herself at her liquor store.

According to the court file, Carmen told police Ford was highly intoxicated that fateful evening, passed out on the bed and was shot by Erika.

The two planned the scheme of getting Ford drunk, according to testimony with the police, to the point that the two could “handle him.”

Carmen told police, Erika went into the bedroom with the Glock semiautomatic .380, fired one shot, and returned to tell her mother “I’m not sure if I did it.”

Carmen told police she then entered the bedroom to see Ford “gurgling” for a moment before he finally died. She checked his pulse to confirm that he was dead, and left the room to comfort her crying daughter.

State Troopers do a grid search near the body of Troy Ford in an overgrown area recreation area. Gregory J. Lamoureux, County Courier

The two then used a tarp to keep him from bleeding all over the place, and rolled him up in a carpet, according to Carmen. She also told police that they would find that carpet and tarp in her van if they looked for it.

Carmen told police she thought Ford’s body remained in the recycling bin outside the home until at least January, at which point they moved it because Erika “ran her mouth” to a man who is now in prison.

She continued to tell police that when it was time to ditch the body, Erika and her boyfriend, Cassani, loaded Ford’s body into her van where she drove it to the old playground on Darlene Drive, at which point Erika and Cassani unloaded the body and ditched it into the woods.

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The medical examiner identified Ford by a tattoo on his body and determined the cause of death was a single gunshot wound to the head, which had no exit wound. The medical examiner also located the bullet, according to police.

The County Courier has learned Erika Guttilla was arrested after an incident on a January 31st in Swanton where she was accused of disorderly conduct at the Liquor Store.

At that time, Erika’s mother told police, “she needs help.”

Carmen also told police that her daughter was a user of crack cocaine and heroin. She was never arraigned in that case though. She was likely referred to court diversion or the Tamarack program for substance abuse.

Erika Guttilla and her boyfriend, Corey Cassani, remain on the run from law enforcement. Police say their whereabouts are unknown, but they should be considered armed and dangerous.

If you have any information that may assist police in the investigation, you are asked to call the Vermont State Police Barracks, in St. Albans,  at 802-524-5993.

ONE ARRESTED, TWO ON THE RUN AFTER HIGHGATE MURDER

Erika Guttilla

Vermont State Police have preliminarily identified the remains of a man whom they discovered in a wooded area in Highgate on Saturday as Troy Ford (35), of 161 Charles Circle, Highgate, VT.

Ford was in a relationship with Erika Guttilla, 31, of Highgate, who police have identified as a suspect in the murder of Ford.

According to police, Erika’s mother, Carmen Guttilla, 60, of Highgate was an accomplice in the murder and disposal of the body.

Carmen Guttilla

Also, a suspected accomplice is Corey Cassani. Corey and Erika are both on the run, according to police, who believed were fleeing in a 2013 Chevrolet Spark with license plate FHN394. Police located that vehicle Monday afternoon in Swanton.

Carmen Guttilla was arrested Sunday evening by police and is scheduled for arraignment later today, in Burlington, at Vermont Superior Court.  She was lodged at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington about 1:15 a.m. Monday.

Corey Cassani

The County Courier has learned that  Ford was wrapped in a sheet when he was left at the abandoned recreational area off Darlene Drive. Police said that the suspects lived in a home just down the street from where the body was discovered.

Police have not released a timeline for when they think the murder occurred but did say that it was several months ago.

The distance between the home that police believe the murder took place, on Charles Circle to where the body was discovered, is about three-tenths of a mile.

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The body of Troy Ford has been transported to the Chief Medical Examiner’s office in Burlington where an autopsy is scheduled on May 7, 2018. A cause of death has yet to be determined, according to police.

State Police are being assisted by the  FBI and U.S. Marshals Service in locating the other three suspects.

Erika Guttilla is a white female, 5 feet 6 inches tall, weighing 120 pounds, with green eyes and blonde hair.  Corey Cassani is a white male, 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighing 165 pounds, with brown eyes and brown hair.  They should be considered armed and dangerous, according to Vermont State Police Public Information Officer Adam Silverman.

Anyone with information about the case or the whereabouts of Erika Guttilla and Corey Cassani should call the VT State Police at 805-524-5993.

*Photos courtesy of Vermont State Police.

The County Courier will have more information as it becomes available.