Vyto Starinskas / Staff Photo
Alex Spanos is brought into Rutland criminal court where he pleaded innocent to second-degree murder Thursday.
RUTLAND — The man allegedly behind the wheel in a crash that killed a Rutland High School senior pleaded innocent to an upgraded charge of second-degree murder Thursday and was ordered jailed without the possibility of bail.
Alex W. Spanos, 23, has been behind bars since September when he pleaded innocent to six counts stemming from a crash on Cleveland Avenue that killed 17-year-old Carly Ferro and injured four others, including Ferro’s father, Ron Ferro.
But Wednesday state and county prosecutors handling the case significantly increased a manslaughter charge against Spanos by amending it to a count of second-degree murder.
Now, instead of facing a maximum 15-year jail sentence for manslaughter, Spanos could face life behind bars if convicted of murder.
The reason for the more severe charge is hinted at in a supplemental affidavit filed by Rutland County State’s Attorney Marc Brierre on Wednesday.
In the new paperwork, police reference a toxicology report on a blood sample taken from Spanos that indicated he had high concentrations of difloureothane — a gas commonly used in electronic cleaning products that can be abused as a means to get high.
That chemical is present, police said, in products such as “Dust-Off” — the keyboard cleaner that two passengers in the car Spanos was driving said he was huffing moments before the crash.
The toxicology results and additional statements provided by the passengers in Spanos’ car were the evidence Brierre cited in court Thursday to support the prosecution’s contention that Spanos actions constituted murder.
In the murder charge, prosecutors say Spanos acted “unlawfully causing the death of another with a wanton disregard of the likelihood that his actions would cause death or great bodily harm by driving a motor vehicle into another vehicle killing Carly Jean Ferro after inhaling chemical fumes from an aerosol can ...”
But the affidavits filed with the court don’t reference any intent on Spanos’ part to kill Ferro — a qualifying factor in most murder charges.
Also, most of the statements provided by the passengers in the new affidavit add details but do little on the surface to change what police and prosecutors suspected in September.
Asked after the hearing to explain the reasons for amending the charge, Brierre said he wouldn’t comment beyond what little was said in the courtroom and what was contained in court filings.
“We amended the charge to fit the evidence,” he said.
Assistant Attorney General Ultan Doyle, who is assisting Brierre in the case, said the murder charge was warranted because Spanos was aware of the danger he was placing others in.
In the supplemental affidavit, Michael Longley, a passenger in Spanos’ car, said a single hit taken from a “Dust-Off” can days before the crash almost knocked Spanos unconscious.
In the minutes before the crash on the afternoon of Sept. 26, Longley and another passenger, Eva Lebo, told police that Spanos huffed several times from the can while driving on streets leading up to Cleveland Avenue.
Just before he turned onto Cleveland Avenue, Spanos allegedly inhaled from the can again and then passed out with his foot on the accelerator, Longley told police.
Asked if Spanos’ experience days earlier with the inhalant when he almost passed out, coupled with his decision to huff from the can while driving, were key factors in bringing the murder charge, Doyle said they were.
“That’s what we believe the evidence shows and it’s what we set forth in the affidavit,” he said.
Spanos, who appeared in court wearing a dark suit Thursday, kept his head bowed while his attorney entered an innocent plea to the murder charge on his behalf.
Brierre asked that Spanos be held in jail without the option of bail because he now faces a lifetime prison sentence. Spanos has been jailed since September on $200,000 bail.
Judge Theresa DiMauro granted the prosecutor’s request. But at the request of Spanos’ public defender she also scheduled a weight-of-evidence hearing for Tuesday. During that hearing, prosecutors will be required to show sufficient evidence to hold Spanos without bail.
The arraignment was attended by Carly Ferro’s mother and Spanos’ parents. None wanted to comment on the case.
brent.curtis @rutlandherald.comMORE IN Vermont News
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