BARRE, Vt. — A shackled Norwich University student from Gaithersburg wept as he entered the courtroom where he pleaded not guilty Monday to charges that he was drunk when he crashed the car he was driving a day earlier, killing another student and injuring seven others, three of them critically.
The charges against 22-year-old Derek Seber include leaving the scene of the Sunday morning crash in Northfield that killed 18-year-old Norwich freshman Renee Robbins, of Kentwood, Mich.
“I just wanted to say how sorry my client feels for the terrible tragedy that occurred here, in this matter,” Seber’s lawyer Douglas Kallen said.
He said Seber’s parents drove from Maryland to attend the proceedings, and that “their heart goes out to” Robbins’ parents.
Kallen argued for Seber to be released into his parents’ custody with conditions and for a lower bail, saying his client was not a flight risk. He said Seber had “an outstanding background until now,” attending the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, being in the top percent of his high school class, and having no criminal background. He was honorably discharged from West Point — Kallen would not say why — and enrolled at Norwich as a civilian, starting the school year in September.
But prosecutor Thomas Kelly argued for $100,000 bail saying Seber had fled the scene of the crash a short distance into the woods, given emergency responders a false name and tried to flee from the hospital.
According to witness accounts in a police affidavit, Seber was speeding in a car packed with seven others, three — including Robbins — seated on passengers’ laps. Witnesses say the car shot past another vehicle and went off the road after heading into a curve.
A witness in the other car, Drew Guzowski, 22, said the car was traveling at 50 to 60 mph when it passed them.
“It was senseless for the car to have passed them. Drew heard someone else in the car he was in say, ‘There is no way they are going to make that turn,’” police said in the affidavit.
Seber had a blood alcohol content of 0.21 percent, which is more than twice the legal limit of 0.08.
Firefighter John Quinn III said he assisted a patient lying on the ground who admitted that he was the driver when asked, the police affidavit said.
“John stated the patient then started crying and asked about everyone else and said he was sorry,” according to the affidavit.
The judge set bail at $100,000 but allowed his parents to post $10,000. Seber was released into their custody later Tuesday under the conditions that he have a 24-hour curfew unless with a parent and not purchase, possess or consume alcohol.
One of the three students who had been listed in critical condition has been released from Fletcher Allen Health Care, Norwich spokesman Daphne Larkin said.
Norwich planned a campus meeting on Monday night and will hold a memorial for Robbins next week, she said.
Twenty-year-old Logan O’Neill, the host of an off-campus party the group had been attending, pleaded not guilty to enabling the consumption of alcohol by an underage person. O’Neill, who is in his third year at Norwich, had been charged twice with drunken driving in Northfield.
The university takes action when it hears from a credible source, such as police, that a student has been convicted of drunken driving, Norwich Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Kelley said.
The first conviction typically results in a suspension; a second usually means the student is dismissed, he said.