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Emotions overflow at sentencing hearing of woman who struck and killed neighbor with truck in Lyndeborough

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 22. 2018 8:13PM

Andra Hall displays a photo of her mother, Debess Rogers, as she gives a victim's statement during the sentenceing hearing for Grace Wight, who pled guilty to striking and killing Rogers while driving a pick-up truck at Hillsborough County Superior Court in Manchester on Monday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

The sorrow over the death of Debess Rogers spilled over into a Manchester courtroom on Monday, a sorrow made heavier by the fact that both Rogers and the young driver who pleaded guilty to her death are neighbors and members of the same church.

“Grace, your reckless driving habits killed Deb,” Guntis Grabazs, Rogers’ widower, said to Grace Wight, who was 17 and at the wheel of a speeding pickup truck when she hit her neighbor as she walked on Center Road in Lyndeborough in July 2016.

About a dozen friends and family members spoke during Monday’s sentencing hearing in Hillsborough County Superior Court-North. They described Rogers as a woman who at 60 was enjoying life as a grandmother, an outdoorswoman, a committed volunteer and a music lover.

On Friday, lawyers scuttled a trial in its fourth day and agreed to a plea bargain that allowed Wight to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of vehicular assault. She avoids any jail time, must perform 200 hours community service and cannot obtain a driver’s license for at least seven years.

Prosecutors dropped charges of negligent homicide and reckless conduct with a deadly weapon.

Wight spoke through tears and said she misses seeing Rogers walking around Lyndeborough, and she misses her conversations with Rogers about the families’ dogs and about Wight’s passion for horses. Both are members of the Milford Unitarian Universalist church.

“I do hope it comforts you to know that when Deb was in her final moments, she was with someone who loved her very much,” Wight said. “She was always in my heart.”

Rogers and Grabazs were driving home from a Los Lobos concert in Massachusetts on July 15, 2016, when their car broke down.

They started to walk home, but when Grabazs’ knee hurt, Rogers continued on Center Road, a curving, winding road outside the center of town.

Meanwhile, Wight had been driving home after visiting a friend whose relationship with a boyfriend had fallen apart. Wight’s 2013 Dodge 1500-series pickup crossed the center line and struck Rogers, killing her.

Grace Wight makes an emotional apology to the family of Debess Rogers, the woman she struck and killed in a 2016 accident. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

The speed limit on the road was 35 mph, and she had been driving at least 64 mph, according to state police reports. The accident took place about 2:30 a.m., past the time that Wight, a teen driver, was legally allowed to be on the road, speakers said. 

Wight tried to give cardiopulmonary resuscitations to no avail.

“I do not think you’re a monster or a bad person. I do think you were driving totally out of control,” said Taylor Annett, Rogers’ son-in-law. He and Rogers’ daughter Laura were bicycling in Europe when they learned of Rogers’ death.

Rogers was the mother of three adult children and grandmother of two. Family members said she was a devoted grandmother and volunteered at hospice, hospitals and soup kitchens. She had returned to school in her 50s, obtained a degree in speech and language pathology and was working at a nearby school.

“She knew how to guide me and support me,” said Laura Annett, who cradled her 1-month-old throughout last week’s trial and Monday’s hearing. “The day you killed my mother was the worst day of my life.”

Public Safety Courts Manchester Lyndeborough

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