Fatal Crash: Charges And Matrix of Grief

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Front Page / Aug. 10, 2017 11:32am EDT


Jeremy Potwin walks out of court after being arraigned on Monday, Aug. 7, 2017, at Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction. Potwin was arrested on Saturday after his alleged involvement in a fatal accident in Royalton on Friday night. (Pool / Valley News / Charles Hatcher) Jeremy Potwin walks out of court after being arraigned on Monday, Aug. 7, 2017, at Windsor Superior Court in White River Junction. Potwin was arrested on Saturday after his alleged involvement in a fatal accident in Royalton on Friday night. (Pool / Valley News / Charles Hatcher) A fatal crash on Back River Road in Royalton on Friday evening has a long-time Royalton resident facing a slate of felony charges.

Jeremy Potwin, 38, whose current address was listed as Bethel in court paperwork, pleaded innocent on Monday to three separate felony counts, two for leaving the scene of an accident with a fatality resulting, and the third for grossly negligent operation of a vehicle.

He also pleaded innocent to an accompanying misdemeanor charge of driving a car without an ignition interlock device, despite having a license that restricts him to only drive such vehicles. The interlock device tests for alcohol on a person’s breath, before a car will start.

Killed in the August 4 crash was Potwin’s good friend, 38-year-old James R. Arbuckle of Royalton.

Potwin, who appears to have four previous DUI convictions on his criminal record (two in 2013 and in 2007 and 2003), now faces a maximum potential penalty of more than 45 years in jail if he were to be convicted of all the charges pending against him.

Bail in the amount of $25,000 had already been posted for Potwin over the weekend, so he was released from the courthouse following his arraignment and ordered to observe a 24-hour curfew at his residence on Gage Hill Road while his cases are pending.

Vermont State Police Trooper Jonathan Duncan said that emergency services were called out at 9:30 p.m. on Friday. Tpr. Duncan wrote in his affidavit that he arrived at the scene to find an oldermodel Toyota Corolla in the middle of Back River Road, impaled upon a length of guardrail that had gone straight through the front of the car and stopped in the trunk.

The guardrail had severed the leg of the front seat passenger, Arbuckle, leaving him dead at the scene.

Tpr. Duncan wrote in his report that it was obvious to him that the unregistered car “had been traveling at a high rate of speed” when it went off the edge of the pavement and slammed into the end of the guardrail.

Duncan described a confusing scene, with troopers initially suspecting that Tyler Leach, 38, had been the driver of the car. Leach appeared intoxicated, and initially said he did not know the name of the driver. The driver, Leach claimed, had been picked up by a truck shortly before police arrived, Duncan wrote.

Leach, who appeared willing, at first, to take the fall for the accident, suddenly changed his mind and allegedly said, “All right, I can’t do this,” according to court records. Leach then told troopers he had been sitting in the back seat behind Potwin, who was driving when they left the Crossroads bar with his friend Arbuckle shortly before the crash.

Troopers spent much of the rest of the evening trying to track down Potwin at various relatives’ and friends’ residences before they finally caught up to him at his home the next afternoon and arrested him there without incident.

Police said that Potwin and Leach suffered only minor injuries in the crash.

In a bizarre twist, it turns out that exactly five years to the day before he was killed, the victim Arbuckle had also been the front-seat passenger in a vehicle involved in a serious crash.

On the evening of August 4, 2012, state police responded to Route 12 in front of the Barnard General Store for a single-vehicle crash that had totaled a pickup truck.

Arbuckle, who was not hurt at that time, was the only person present at the scene when the troopers arrived. A short time later, they located the driver hiding amongst a dense thicket of brush near the store and arrested him on suspicion of drunk driving.

A Loving Son

Tim Staples of Royalton struggled to contain his grief yesterday as he spoke about his stepson, James “JR” Arbuckle, in a telephone conversation.

“We was a well-loved individual,” Staples said of Arbuckle. “He had a whole lot of friends, and every single one loved him.”

And, he said, Arbuckle loved them back.

“He would do everything and anything for anyone who asked,” Staples added. “Whenever anyone needed him to do something, he’d be there for them.”

When asked to provide a telling anecdote about Arbuckle, Staples paused a moment and said, “Four or five weeks ago, he grabbed me in a big bear hug and told me he loved me—and busted one of my ribs.”

The break didn’t heal quite right, and has left a visible bump on his rib cage, Staples said, adding: “I will cherish that thing the rest of my days.”

Arbuckle, he said, was 5’7” or 5’8” tall, and built “like a little brick house.”

The accident has left everyone reeling, he acknowledged, including the Potwin family. No one in either family is placing blame on anyone, Staples emphasized.

“We didn’t just lose a son—the Potwins lost a son, too. We were that close,” Staples said. “We have nothing but love for them.”

Both families are now suffering from the added burden of criticisms from outside, he said.

“A lot of people on social media, on Facebook, are slamming us for standing up for Jeremy and the whole Potwin family,” he said.

“I want everyone to stop, okay?” Staples said. “They don’t understand the matrix of our two families together. We’ve had more than 30 years of loving and caring about each other.”

The Herald’s Sandy Vondrasek contributed to this article.

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