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Hanson woman faces charges for Dec. crash that killed jogger

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Kathleen M. Vitello was arraigned in Plymouth District Court Friday.Laura Crimaldi

PLYMOUTH — A Hanson woman had a mix of methadone, Xanax, Valium, and Adderall in her system in December when the car she was driving crossed the center lane, went off the road, and struck a Hanover nurse who was doing a training run for the Boston Marathon, a prosecutor said Friday.

After the 2004 Nissan Altima hit Amanda Turner Russell, 32, as she jogged on Winter Street in Hanson around noon on Dec. 23, the car slammed into a telephone pole, which snapped in half, said Plymouth Assistant District Attorney Russell Eonas.

The driver was Kathleen M. Vitello, 52, who was taken into custody Thursday night and arraigned Friday in Plymouth District Court on charges including motor vehicle manslaughter and motor vehicle homicide while operating under the influence of drugs.

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Not guilty pleas were entered on her behalf.

Russell was declared brain dead on Dec. 28 at Brigham and Women's Hospital and she died the next day after her organs were removed to be donated, according to a police report filed in court.

Eonas said tests of blood and urine samples taken from Vitello found she had four drugs in her system at the time of the crash: methadone, a treatment for opiate addiction; the benzodiazepines Xanax and Valium; and Adderall, a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine prescribed for patients with narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Witnesses at the scene said Vitello appeared to be under the influence of a narcotic, nodded off, and repeatedly asked the same questions.

"There is information that [the medications] were of therapeutic levels, however, the combined effects seemed to have this influence on Miss Vitello when she was behind the wheel at that point in time," Eonas said.

He said Vitello's mother told officials that her daughter was aware that taking the combination of drugs affected her ability to function. "When she was under the influence of these narcotics, this is exactly how she would act. It was very consistent with what was described by people who interacted with her that day," Eonas said.

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Defense attorney Daniel Walsh called the case tragic.

"I would point out, though there's certainly evidence of drugs in her blood . . . those were within therapeutic levels," he said.

Vitello has prescriptions for methadone and Xanax, Walsh said. "The evidence at this point really leads to the conclusion that something happened with the operation of the motor vehicle itself," he said. "She was reaching for something at the time with horrible consequences."

Judge James Sullivan set bail at $50,000, the amount requested by Eonas. Vitello is scheduled to return to court Feb. 25. Russell's relatives declined to comment Friday.

Plymouth District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz said the case is about justice for Russell, who had an 8-year-old son and was living a "great life, doing great things."

"When people take a different number or different amount of prescribed medications . . . there are consequences to that," he said. "This woman . . . was aware of the fact that the mixture of these medications was a dangerous thing."

Russell worked as a labor and delivery nurse at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and planned to run the Boston Marathon in April to raise money for the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit. In November, she ran a half-marathon in California with her colleague, Nancy Eaton, who plans to run the Boston Marathon in Russell’s honor. The hospital said it is establishing a fund in Russell’s memory.

Phyllis West, associate chief nurse for the perinatal service, said Russell's death left the unit with a "tremendous void."

Russell loved photography and climbed to the hospital roof sometimes to photograph the sunrise, West said. She also collected scenic photographs taken by her colleagues and displayed them to give mothers-to-be beautiful images to admire during labor, West said.

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Russell brought many lives into the world, and in death, West said, she gave even more by donating her organs.

"She really lived such a full life," West said. "She touched so many lives it was unbelievable."

Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.