CONCORD, N.H. – A former Fortune 500 executive told police he was depressed and aiming to kill himself when he drove his full-size pick-up truck across a grassy highway median, went airborne and crushed to death a young Vermont couple expecting their first child in January.
Robert Dellinger, 53, survived the suicide attempt with cuts on his head and face. He was charged with reckless manslaughter, a crime that carries 15-30 years in prison if convicted.
But what was going through Dellinger's mind and whether he showed "extreme indifference" to human life could get him a more serious charge of second-degree murder that carries up to life in prison.
Jason Timmons, 29, and Amanda Murphy, 24, suffered injuries a medical examiner said were consistent with a plane crash. The unborn child did not survive.
Veteran defense attorney and University of New Hampshire law school professor Albert "Buzz" Scherr said he has no doubt prosecutors are considering elevating the charges to murder, but hastened to add there's little precedent for a case like Dellinger's.
"It's such strange and outrageous behavior," Scherr said. "There's a vacuum in terms of the details of what was in his mind.
"If he's focused on committing suicide, is he thinking about other people's lives? Or does it fall closer to driving really fast and hoping you go so fast you go off the road and kill yourself and you're not thinking about anyone else?"
Senior Assistant Attorney General Susan Morrell said last week they are considering additional charges against Dellinger, who left as a senior vice president and chief financial officer of PPG Industries in 2011 because of health issues. He had also worked for Sprint, Delphi and General Electric.
Asked why Dellinger wasn't charged with second-degree murder at the outset, Morrell said, "We're still collecting evidence. We examine the evidence and pursue the appropriate charges."
Dellinger has not been charged in connection with the loss of the fetus. Former Gov. John Lynch in 2012 vetoed legislation that would have expanded the state's homicide laws to include the death of a fetus eight weeks or older.
Dellinger's lawyer, Peter DeCato, did not return calls seeking comment. Dellinger, who lives in Sunapee but maintains a home in Kansas, is free on $250,000 cash bond and must wear an electronic monitoring device and undergo a psychiatric evaluation.
Prosecutors said in court Wednesday that Dellinger's truck crossed the median on Interstate 89 early afternoon on Dec. 7, became airborne and sheared off the top of the couple's car, killing them instantly.
According to prosecutors, Dellinger told troopers after the crash that he had argued with his wife over medication he was taking for depression and was driving around when he decided to commit suicide.
"He told us that Saturday in the hospital that he intended to cross that median at a high rate of speed," Morrell said.
Attorney Jonathan Cohen, who is not involved in Dellinger's case, said it's not a stretch to think prosecutors may seek to increase the charges once all the evidence is in.
"I think a prosecutor could make the argument to a jury that intentionally driving your car across the median of a roadway manifests an extreme indifference to human life," Cohen said.