DMV seeks to prove fault in fatal crash

CONCORD – Two retired state police accident reconstruction experts concluded that Daniel Rodriguez, not Michael Gorsuch, was driving the car in which Rodriguez was killed.

Because of that evidence, Hillsborough County prosecutors decided in January to drop the negligent homicide charge against Gorsuch related to the Oct. 29, 2007, crash on Thornton Road in Nashua.

Despite that evidence, the Department of Safety now seeks to prove that Gorsuch was driving Rodriguez’s car.

The state Division of Motor Vehicles has brought forward an administrative charge alleging that Gorsuch caused Rodriguez’s death, and is seeking to revoke his license for up to seven years. A hearing is scheduled Wednesday afternoon, in the Department of Safety hearings bureau.

The case was filed under a state law (RSA 263:56) that authorizes the state Department of Safety to revoke or suspend driver’s licenses, independent of any other legal proceeding, in cases when a driver “has by reckless or unlawful operation of motor vehicle caused or materially contributed to an accident resulting in death or injury to any other person,” Hearings Administrator Curt Duclos said.

DMV Attorney Sheri Kelloway said she and trooper Caleen Bowman decided to bring the case up for a hearing after reviewing the evidence. Administrative cases are decided based on a “preponderance of the evidence,” a lower standard of proof than in criminal courts, she noted.

They still have to prove Gorsuch was driving, however, and two accident experts have concluded that he was not.

“It’s unfortunate that we have to deal with this issue again. We thought this was over,” Gorsuch’s lawyer, Steven Levesque of Nashua, said recently. “Everybody here would like to let Dan rest in peace.”

As The Telegraph reported in a four-part series last month, Hillsborough County prosecutors dropped their charge after failing to block Gorsuch from presenting an accident reconstruction expert who concluded Rodriguez had been driving.

After their own expert agreed with Gorsuch’s expert, prosecutors concluded they could not prove that Gorsuch was driving. However, Hillsborough County Attorney Marguerite Wageling and First Assistant County Attorney Roger Chadwick have said they remain unconvinced of his innocence. “I think there is evidence that points toward him having done it,” Chadwick said, but on the other hand, “I have to live with what the experts say.”

“Do I have some doubts? Absolutely,” Chadwick said. “Can I read that file and say he’s innocent? Yes. Can I read that file and say maybe he did this? Yes.”

Gorsuch, then 29, of Derry, and Daniel Rodriguez, then 27, of Nashua, were close friends, and had spent the night of Oct. 28, 2007 at Sky Lounge in Nashua, a bar about a quarter-mile from Rodriguez’s home, watching the Red Sox clinch the World Series.

They left the bar after the game in Rodriguez’s Scion tC, a car owned by the Toyota dealership where he worked. Rodriguez’s fiancee, Michelle Cardoso, and other friends of the two men insisted that Rodriguez would never have allowed anyone else to drive the car.

Police and crash experts estimated the car was moving at more than double the speed limit on Thornton Road, and it had passed the turn to Rodriguez’s home when it began to skid out of control and into some trees.

Neither man wore a seat belt, and only the passenger’s side door airbag deployed in the crash. Police found Gorsuch’s Red Sox cap wedged between the front passenger seat headrest and the inflated airbag.

Rodriguez, 27, was killed, leaving his parents, Cardoso, a 10-year-old son, and a large group of friends to grieve. Rodriguez’s body was thrown into the back of the car, and police found one of his sneakers between the clutch and brake pedals.

Gorsuch was out of the car, talking with a 911 operator when a passerby and then police arrived. Police apparently became suspicious of Gorsuch when he told them he’d got out of the car through the passenger door, which was inoperable.

“Certain things didn’t quite match up that pointed to him being the suspect,” Chadwick said.

Nashua police accident reconstruction officers wrote a report on the crash, but never questioned the assumption that Gorsuch was driving. Neither did prosecutors, until shortly before his trial, when Gorsuch turned over reports by Charles Schack of Crash Experts in Manchester, a former assistant commander of the New Hampshire State Police Technical Accident Reconstruction Unit, and Dr. Robert Belliveau, of Newburyport, Mass., a pathologist.

Both Schack and Belliveau reviewed the evidence, and concluded that Gorsuch could not have been driving.

Prosecutors at first tried to block Gorsuch from calling his experts as witnesses. When that failed, they consulted an expert of their own, Gordon “Chip” Johnson of The Crash Lab in Hampton, also a retired state police expert. Johnson didn’t produce a report of his own, but told prosecutors he agreed with Schack, Wageling said.

“We got that information late in the game,” Chadwick said of the expert reports. “Obviously, we think we did the right thing by saying, ‘All right, let’s take a look at it.’ ”

In the end, Chadwick said he believes the case was resolved appropriately.

“Everybody reached a conclusion they felt was the right result,” he said.