By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — The organizer of a Dec. 28 underage drinking party that caused $10,600 in damage to the former summer home of Robert Frost in Ripton will not serve any jail time, but will pay $3,500 in restitution, perform 100 hours of community service and be on probation for two years.
Those were the main components of a plea agreement negotiated between Addison County State’s Attorney John Quinn and 18-year-old Ripton resident Andrew Ford, who fainted during a courtroom discussion with Addison County District Court Judge Helen Toor as she accepted the plea deal on Tuesday.
Ford suddenly collapsed and appeared to lose consciousness as judge Toor queried him on his reasons for organizing the party at the Homer Noble House that drew more than two dozen people, many of them Middlebury Union High School students. Most of those students have already accepted court diversion as punishment for their roles in the destructive party, which has garnered national publicity.
Court officials quickly cleared the courtroom after Ford’s collapse, but called off an ambulance after he quickly regained composure and completed the sentencing hearing, with his parents at his side.
“I have never scared someone so much that someone fainted in my courtroom,” Toor told Ford in a brief light moment after order had been restored. “I was trying to scare you a little bit, but not that much.”
Ford’s punishment includes a suspended jail term of six- to 12 months and an educational course that he and the other culprits will have to attend. Quinn confirmed on Tuesday that he is speaking with Jay Parini, author and D. E. Axinn Professor of English and Creative Writing at Middlebury College, about leading the course to enlighten the youths about Frost’s iconic status as an American poet.
“It’s so they can learn why Robert Frost is a poet laureate and, if not a national treasure, at least a Vermont treasure,” Quinn said of the course, which is still in the works.
Ford had been cited for unlawful trespassing and enabling the consumption of alcohol by a minor in connection with the Dec. 28 party at the Homer Noble Farmhouse. Ford admitted giving Patrick Deering, 23, of Middlebury around $100 to buy beer for the party. Ford acknowledged he had become acquainted with the Homer Noble Farmhouse when he was a summer worker on Middlebury College’s Breadloaf Campus in Ripton. The college owns the Homer Noble Farmhouse and the nearby cabin where Frost did his writing and which was untouched during the Dec. 28 party.
More people than anticipated showed up at the party — some reports pegged the number of partygoers at 50 — prompting Ford to tell them it was a friend’s summer house “so they would respect and not damage the home,” according to court documents.
But that didn’t stop the vandalism, which included chairs being tossed through windows, fire extinguishers being set off and furniture being burned in the fireplace, according to court records. Some of those attending the party vomited on the floor.
Twenty-eight people were cited in connection with the party, mostly for unlawful trespassing.
Had he been convicted on the charge of unlawful trespassing, Ford could have received up to three months in jail, a $500 fine, or both. The charge of enabling the consumption of alcohol by a minor carried a possible sentence of up to two years in jail, a fine of $500 to $2,000, or both.
Quinn said he believes the Ford plea deal reflects a level of restitution, punishment and education appropriate for a crime committed by a youth who was “otherwise a good kid, from all reports.”
Quinn added that two other youths whom prosecutors have deemed also played a large role in the crime will be asked to pay an equal amount of restitution ($3,500) to Middlebury College. Quinn said he could not yet reveal the names of the other two youths who will pay restitution.
Middlebury College has endorsed the restitution plan.
“The college is satisfied that the legal system has run its proper course,” said Sarah Ray, Middlebury College’s director of public affairs.
Ford took responsibility for organizing the party and told Toor he would stay out of further trouble. More trouble would run him afoul of probation and potentially land him in jail, Toor warned.
When asked to explain his actions in court, Ford said he had not originally intended to have a large party.
“I was originally planning to find a party that multiple cliques in our senior class could attend and I never actually planned to go to the Noble Farm,” Ford said. That plan changed, he said, when his friend (and another defendant in the case) Bryan Parks, a Middlebury 19-year-old, called Ford and said it was his birthday and that they should celebrate. It was at that point, Ford said, that he considered the Homer Noble Farm.
“It was a nice house,” Ford said.
On the evening of the party, however, “multiple groups showed up who I didn’t know who they were,” Ford said, to which Toor replied, “I could have told you that would happen.”
Asked what his advice would be to other youths pondering a party, Ford said, “Do not do what I did. Don’t organize or go to any underage drinking parties.”
The judge also asked Ford, an MUHS senior, about his future plans and voiced concerns about his current academic struggles.
Ford attributed his poor marks to “motivational issues,” adding a grade five/six teacher “pretty much ruined school for me.”
“My suggestion to you is that you try to get over that and try to work a little harder to figure that out,” Toor told Ford, who plans to go to college this fall. “You’re obviously a smart young man, it seems to me.
“I think whatever the problem is, this is the time to figure that out, so you can figure out how to stay out of trouble and not go down the road with some other people who are sort of aimless that end up seeing me too much,” she added.