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After calls for disclosure by the New England First Amendment Coalition and other transparency advocates, the Vermont State Police recently ended more than two weeks of secrecy and provided the name of a teen driver involved in a fatal crash last month.
“While the state police deserve credit for ultimately releasing the name,” said Michael Donoghue, NEFAC’s first vice president, “the initial secrecy was unreasonably prolonged and unwarranted.”
About 11 hours after the May 18 crash, Vermont State Police issued a news release with no names for the three teens involved – the driver, the seriously injured victim (who would die overnight) and another friend in the car.
The day after the crash, state police did release the name of the 15 year-old who died and the second teen passenger, who had minor injuries. Police said the Windham County State’s Attorney’s Office did not want the driver’s name made public.
NEFAC, along with the Brattleboro Reformer, WPTZ-TV and the Vermont Press Association were among the media and transparency groups calling for the release of the driver’s name.
The organizations noted that the names of drivers involved in crashes on public roads are considered public records under the Vermont Constitution, the Vermont Public Records Law and according to Vermont Department of Motor Vehicle rules.
After 17 days the Vermont State Police notified state prosecutors that the department was reversing its agreement to withhold the name of the driver.
NEFAC is the region’s leading advocate for the First Amendment and the public’s right to know about government.
In Vermont, NEFAC recently supported an effort to unseal a court decision addressing the state’s shield law, argued for free access to police body camera footage, provided guidance to the state Supreme Court on its new online record system, opposed limits on media access and camera use in state courtrooms, defended the rights of student journalists, and provided civics education as part of its First Amendment and the Free Press program.
NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.
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Major Supporters of NEFAC include Hearst Connecticut Media Group, the Barr Foundation, The Boston Globe, WBUR and Boston University.