Feb. 15, 2012By Luke Baynes Observer staff
Records obtained by the Observer have shed light on opposing reports first presented at a Feb. 6 Williston Selectboard grievance hearing, at which Detective Sgt. Bart Chamberlain raised concerns about a 2010 traffic accident that led to a 73-year-old man’s death.
On Oct. 18, 2010, Dale Holcomb, 73, struck a utility pole on Vermont 2A near Hurricane Lane, after two prior interactions with members of the Williston Police Department earlier in the evening. He was pronounced dead at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington at 1:47 a.m. the following morning.
According to Williston Police records, dispatch received a call at 3:58 p.m. on Oct. 18, 2010 regarding an elderly male passed out in the parking lot of Shaw’s supermarket with his foot “floored on the accelerator” of his parked vehicle.
Officer Travis Trybulski responded to the call.
Per Trybulski’s report, he observed that the elderly male (Holcomb) had “a prescription pill bottle in his right shirt pocket,” and that “the driver side rear tire was almost completely flat.”
After members of the Williston Fire Department’s emergency medical services team arrived and attended to Holcomb in the back of the ambulance, Trybulski cleared the scene and left.
Later that evening, at 8:13 p.m., Officers Joshua Moore and Keith Gonyeau responded to a call placed to dispatch by off-duty Officer Eric Shepard (who, along with Trybulski, responded to the call earlier in the day) that there was an elderly male subject (Holcomb) “slumped over the steering wheel of his vehicle.”
According to Moore’s report, upon responding to the scene and finding Holcomb initially unresponsive but, upon waking, “belligerent and uncooperative,” Moore asked him if he had any medical conditions, to which Holcomb advised: “High blood pressure.”
Moore further stated: “Officer Gonyeau asked Holcomb if he was a diabetic, and Holcomb advised ‘I am a borderline diabetic.’”
According to Gonyeau’s report, he arrived on the scene after Moore and EMS members.
Gonyeau stated: “While Williston Rescue was dealing with Holcomb, I heard that he was diabetic but was refusing any medical attention and he was refusing to allow Rescue perform (sic) any preliminary testing, to include checking his (redacted by attorneys for the town of Williston). Holcomb continued to refuse any medical attention and advised that he had just fallen asleep.”
According to the Williston EMS report, dispatch received a call at 8:15 p.m. The nature of the call was reported as “possible diabetic emergency.”
The EMS report — handwritten in medical jargon — states that Holcomb “remembers driving to parking lot but not why he was there,” and that “PD (police department) assumed responsibility for PT (patient) care.” It further states that “PD (Officer Gonyeau) signed refusal (form) since PT refused (to be evaluated).”
Holcomb’s autopsy, conducted at the request of his family by Vermont Chief Medical Examiner Steven Shapiro, states as the manner of death: “Accident (restrained driver of car in collision with utility pole, possible cardiac arrest while driving).”
As a result of the incidents that occurred on the night of Oct. 18, 2010, Williston Police Chief Roy Nelson asked Chamberlain to perform an investigation.
On Nov. 29, 2010, Chamberlain sent Nelson an email, in which he alleged that there were discrepancies between Moore’s report and the police cruiser video from the evening of the incident — specifically, a debate between Moore and Gonyeau over whether Holcomb had medical issues or mental disabilities.
Chamberlain concluded in the Nov. 29 email: “The bottom line is Officer Moore was concerned that Mr. Holcomb needed help and should not be driving, but he followed Officer Gonyeau’s lead in writing him off as just crazy. … I believe we have no choice but to inform the Office of the Chittenden County State’s Attorney of this report, it is in direct contradiction to the conversations that actually took place during this incident and was obviously written by an officer who did not realize Officer Gonyeau had recorded the entire incident.”
In a subsequent email to Nelson, dated Nov. 30, 2010, Chamberlain alleges that other senior members of the department agreed with his assessment of the incident.
He stated: “For the record, Sergeant (Scott) Graham has been telling Police Department employees that Officer Gonyeau and Moore should not have let him drive and that Mr. Holcomb would still be alive today if they had acted. Sergeant Graham states he has already told you this. According to Sergeant Graham, Sergeant (Brian) Claffy feels the same way. I have not expressed any disagreement with the officers’ decisions to any other officer in this department.”
According to a memorandum sent to Nelson and Williston Town Manager Rick McGuire by Attorney Colin McNeil of McNeil Leddy & Sheahan P.C., McNeil was commissioned by the town on Dec. 1, 2010 to investigate the Holcomb incident.
McNeil’s 10-page report concluded: “It is our opinion that Officer Moore’s report is consistent with the facts and information we gathered from the materials you presented to us regarding this incident and his written explanation in response to the allegation of deliberate falsehood is both plausible and factually supported by the materials and other officers’ reports provided. In addition, it is our opinion that neither Officer Gonyeau nor Moore were derelict in their duties in investigating this incident and that both acted appropriately pursuant to the circumstances presented.”
Nelson, in an open letter dated Dec. 22, 2010, concurred with McNeil’s conclusions.
“…There is no wrongdoing on the part of Officer Moore with regards to his truthfulness … And find (Officers Moore and Gonyeau) utilized legal avenues afforded them by State Statute to investigate the matter,” Nelson wrote.