Is It Murder?

Two area men denied their role in the fatal alcohol and drug overdose of a Vermont teen last month. The men, one from Sheldon Springs and the other from Highgate, each pled not guilty of manslaughter for the death of 19-year old Jeremy Chapple. who died after guzzling the booze and Lorazepam they sold to him in an apartment in Swanton Village.

Local police know that apartment as a juvenile gathering place.

According to the St Albans Messenger, one of the men charged “only has one forgery conviction on his criminal record.” The judge released that man without bail or curfew although he can’t leave Franklin County without court permission.

The second man is currently serving house arrest for armed robbery. The Corrections Department is unlikely to release him now.

Lordy, Lordy™.

The paper reported that the first defendant sold four tablets of Lorazepam to Mr. Chapple for $1 each. The other defendant bought him a jug of Jack Daniels. Depressed after breaking up with his girlfriend, Mr. Chapple consumed them in a couple of hours.

Sad story. Sad ending.

But it might not be manslaughter.

It might be murder.

“The death of Jeremy Chapple on June 8 is a tragedy of the highest degree — in other words, an avoidable tragedy,” Franklin County Caring Communities, Rural Partnerships, and the Grand Isle County Clean Team, the primary drug and alcohol coalitions of northwestern Vermont, said in a statement after the court proceedings. “Those who think the only danger that comes from underage drinking is an alcohol-related crash need look no further than this case to see otherwise. Those who believe that supplying an underage individual with alcohol will not lead to trouble for themselves can also learn an important lesson from this. Finally, this death should serve as a clear need for swift action in all our communities when it comes to prescription drug abuse.

“It is our sincerest hope that today’s arraignments will be an important step down a path that helps our whole northwest Vermont community learn important lessons about teens, alcohol and prescription drug abuse, and the need to be ever-vigilant in the protection of our children and young adults. The story of Jeremy Chapple is a story every parent should pay heed to and use as an opportunity to discuss such issues with their children in age-appropriate ways.”

Learn important lessons?

That politically correct statement is too long on hand holding and education and too short on responsibility.

Contrast those semantics with the actions of crusading Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice who charged a drunk driver with murder. “He had a completely depraved indifference to human life,” she told 60 Minutes, “because he acted so recklessly others were likely to die.”

Drunk driving kills more than 13,000 Americans every year despite the publicity, the education campaigns, and the apologetic hand wringing by drug and alcohol coalitions.

7-year-old Katie Flynn was a flower girl at her aunt’s Long Island wedding three years ago. That beautiful day ended in tragedy when a 24-year-old insurance salesman with a blood alcohol content more than three times the legal limit drove three miles the wrong way on the highway before crashing head-on into the Flynns’ vehicle. He killed their driver and tore little Katie’s head off.

The same year Katie Flynn died, Forbes Magazine named Nassau County “the safest region in the United States, with the lowest crime rate.”

District Attorney Rice charged the insurance salesman with Murder, Vehicular Manslaughter, Aggravated DWI, and some lesser included charges. The jury decided that that drunk driver didn’t need hand holding. The jury decided he didn’t need education. The jury decided he needed to take responsibility for decapitating a 7-year old child while he was drunk. Convicted, he got 25 years to life in prison last week. For murder.

Mr. Chapple was an avid outdoorsman who loved hunting, fishing, trapping, four-wheeling, dirt bike riding and playing basketball. And, apparently, alcohol and drugs.

Were the Vermont defendants any less indifferent to Mr. Chapple’s likely fate than the drunken salesman was to Katie’s?

Who will take responsibility for his death?

Full Disclosure: I helped found, chaired, and still volunteer for the local Franklin County Caring Community chapter. I strongly endorse its mission but I also know there can be no learning without accountability.