(NECN: Jack Thurston, Rutland, Vt.) - Police in Rutland, Vt. say Alex Spanos was so high on gases he inhaled from aerosol cans while driving last September, he was almost unconscious and didn't know where he was going as he rocketed toward Carly Ferro.
Investigators say Spanos may have reached speeds upwards of 80 mph before crushing the 17-year-old varsity golfer at Rutland High School against the wall of the store where she worked, killing her.
Spanos had been charged with manslaughter, but Thursday, prosecutors upped that to second-degree murder, citing evidence including witness statements to police that were developed after the initial arraignment. The 24-year-old Spanos maintained his not guilty plea.
Inside the Discount Food & Liquidation Center, Ferro's coworkers were glad for the more serious charge.
"I'm just waiting and watching, like everyone else is, to see that justice is served," Pam Sokol said.
The store hung a memorial plaque where Ferro was hit, and friends said they hope the death of an innocent, good kid wakes communities up to the dangers of abusing household products like aerosol cans.
"I hope that people in this town will realize how serious the drug problem is and actually do something about it, so nothing like this will happen again," said Katherine Keefe, who told New England Cable News her sister was one of Ferro's dearest friends.
One year ago, prosecutors in Vermont's largest county got a conviction in a similar case, touting that case as the state's first drunk driver convicted of murder. Timothy Dowd is now serving a 10-year prison sentence under a plea deal with Chittenden County prosecutors for murdering Kaye Borneman with his car in December, 2010. Dowd crashed into Borneman’s vehicle in a major intersection in downtown Burlington, Vt. as he sped away from a traffic stop and his fifth DUI.
"I believe it was a second-degree murder charge, so we knew that it existed," Rutland County State's Attorney Marc Brierre said of the Dowd case.
Brierre said there is strong evidence Spanos should have known his actions easily could have killed just about anyone that night, so he believes the second-degree murder charge is appropriate.
As Spanos was brought back to jail with no chance of bail yet approved, his family and Carly Ferro's loved ones left court without comment to NECN. A weight of the evidence hearing is scheduled for next week, at which time the defense could argue for Spanos to be released from jail on bail, with conditions.