By PHILLIP BANTZ
She was a young, aspiring teacher jogging along a quiet stretch of road in Keene when a heroin addict fell asleep at the wheel and changed her life in a flash of violence.
The Chevrolet Beretta veered off North Lincoln Street and plowed into Jenna Lydon, then 25, launching her over a chain-link fence, its jagged top edges tearing her skin. Her broken body landed in Woodland Cemetery.
The driver, 20-year-old Addison Southwick, a Swanzey man with a debilitating drug addiction and a criminal record, was given a chance at redemption Wednesday in Cheshire County Superior Court.
In exchange for what Judge John P. Arnold described as an “unreasonably light” jail sentence, Southwick agreed to assist Lydon and her family in a civil suit that could help put the young woman’s life back together.
Cheshire County Attorney Peter W. Heed acknowledged the uniqueness of the case, saying it was the first time in his career that a pending lawsuit influenced the terms of a plea negotiation.
“This combines a criminal component with a civil component that will actually be helpful to the victim,” he said.
Southwick pleaded guilty to one count of reckless conduct with a deadly weapon — the car he was driving — and was sentenced to a year at the Cheshire County jail in Westmoreland followed by up to five years of probation. He must also enroll in a drug treatment program.
As part of the plea negotiation, Southwick is obligated to help Lydon’s attorneys — Lawrence G. Slason of Bellows Falls and Holly B. Haines of Manchester — obtain his medical records from the Keene Metro Treatment Center in Swanzey. The clinic was giving Southwick methadone treatments before the crash.
Slason and Haines said they are contemplating a lawsuit against the clinic, but without Southwick’s medical records, which are protected by federal privacy laws, their case would crumble.
Southwick also agreed to provide taped statements detailing his treatment at the clinic and the events preceding the crash.
Southwick told police investigating the crash that he smoked marijuana the evening before he received his methadone treatment, Haines said. He later fell asleep behind the wheel, she said.
Slason and Haines said they were still building the civil case, which they declined to discuss after the hearing.
If Southwick backs out of the deal with Slason and Haines, a judge could order him to serve a one- to three-year stint in New Hampshire State Prison on a conviction for heroin possession.
The sentence could also be imposed if Southwick gets into any more legal trouble in the next four years.
The conviction stems from a traffic stop in November, when Southwick, who was a passenger in the car, was caught with a heroin needle. He pleaded guilty to the charge during Wednesday’s hearing.
Southwick also pleaded guilty to one count each of marijuana possession and carrying a pistol without a permit during another traffic stop in February. He received two concurrent and suspended six-month jail sentences for those convictions.
A victim advocate speaking for Lydon said she and her family supported Southwick’s negotiated sentence, as it was their only chance at recovering more than $350,000 in medical bills and other financial losses tied to the crash.
Once an avid soccer player and jogger in training for a triathlon, Lydon said in court that she now struggles to walk normally, even after eight months of painful physical therapy.
Lydon was airlifted to a hospital after the collision and underwent numerous surgeries to repair her broken jaw, fractured leg and a shattered knee and eye socket.
She said she’s grappled with stress, anxiety and depression and has defaulted on her student loans because she can’t work.
“No matter how hard I try, I know words will never be able to describe the physical, emotional and financial harm Addison’s actions have caused me and my family,” Lydon said in her victim impact statement.
Lydon was two weeks from graduating with a master’s degree in education at Antioch University New England in Keene when the crash put her life on hold.
She planned to begin teaching elementary school full-time after graduation, but now lives with her parents in Milford and cannot care for herself.
At the conclusion of the emotional hearing, Southwick stood in court and faced Lydon and her family.
“I just want to apologize and say there hasn’t been a day that’s gone by that I haven’t thought about it and regretted it,” he said.
Southwick said he tried to visit Lydon in the hospital, but was turned away, and unsuccessfully attempted to call her after the incident. He said he left flowers and letters at the crash site.
“It’s been horrible for me,” he said, his voice almost a whisper. “I apologize.”