By Alan Keays, VTDigger
Several victims of crime spoke out Tuesday, Sept. 19, at a “listening” forum in Rutland hosted by the Vermont Center for Crime Victim Services, Waterbury. They talked of feeling guilty for coming forward, not getting justice and the impacts of what happened to them that they live with every day.
“This is really our attempt to listen to victims and survivors,” said Chris Fenno, the center’s executive director. “We are, at the center, undergoing some transformative planning and we really want input.” The center, she told a crowd of about 50 people, helps provide direct services to victims, collect restitution, provide training and administer grants. “Our mission is really to seek justice,” Fenno added.
The event in Rutland was the second of eight “listening” forums the center is hosting around the state. Several people who work with crime victims every day served as a “listening” panel. They included Rutland County State’s Attorney Rose Kennedy, Rutland City Police Chief Brian Kilcullen and Avaloy Lanning, executive director of the Rutland County Women’s Network & Shelter.
Several of the victims who spoke at the forum in Rutland said after the event said they did not want to disclose their names in the press.
One woman talked of a crash that killed her husband and her frustration that something wasn’t done sooner to take the driver charged in the death off the road, given his lengthy criminal record and people repeatedly calling police to report he was driving without a license.
A victim of domestic violence spoke of how difficult it’s been dealing with the loss of friends and family members who supported the man convicted in the case.
And one woman told how she has been stalked by someone in her town, and now she sleeps with a gun by her bed.
Lenny Montuori, who owns and operates the food truck, Big Lenny’s Hot Dogs, in Rutland, was the first to speak. He recalled the night in January 2013 when he was in his home office and a vehicle traveling more than 70 mph careened into his house, knocking off the front of his residence and leaving him in a pile of rubble. The driver fled the scene and was arrested three days later.
“I felt like I was paralyzed,” Montuori said. “I didn’t know if I could move.”
More than $100,000 in damage was done to his home, Montuori said, but he had insurance that covered it. However, he said, insurance did not cover the several months he was out of his home while it was getting repaired. He couldn’t work during that time, he added, because he no longer had access to the commercial kitchen that had been in his house.
The driver, Montuori said, had no insurance and is paying restitution of $50 a month. But with thousands lost in income, he said, he questioned whether he’ll ever see the day when he has recouped what he lost. “I’ll be long dead and buried before I get paid back,” Montuori said. And he has to deal with steep medical bills, too.
But more than monetary loses, he talked of the psychological impacts that he deals with every day. He said he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, and has tried many treatments to try to alleviate it, so far with little success. Sudden loud noises, Montuori said, can leave him collapsed on the floor. And he said he now needs someone else to drive him around.
“This isn’t me, I don’t want this,” he said. “I love what I do. I love people who come to the cart. What can I do?”
He said people see him all day in the hot dog truck and remark on his fun-loving and easygoing nature. But back home, he said, he’s a different person. “When I’m in my cart, I’m in my zone, my little world,” Montuori said. “Then I come home and when I’m walking I’ll bump into things. I’ll trip over things.”
He said someone suggested to him that he go on disability. “I don’t want to go on disability. I’m a young 68 years old,” Montuori said. “I want to go on. I love everything, but it’s just so hard.”
Lanning said after the forum that she heard the “real pain” and “long-lasting impact” of crime on victims. “I think that what everybody here who was a victim of crime said when they stood up is the experience of many victims of crime,” she said. “Whether it’s having your house burglarized, or being the victim of domestic violence, it stays with you.”
Kennedy, the county’s top prosecutor, said after the forum that she wished crime victims didn’t feel as alone as they sometimes do.
She added that in court often the family and friends of a person charged with a crime are there. “It would great if people came to court to support victims, too,” the prosecutor said.