Written by Mike Donoghue Correspondent with Rutland Herald
BURLINGTON — An Orleans County woman, who authorities say may have witnessed events connected with the shooting of a woman and her son in Holland on Jan. 1, is facing a federal gun charge for making a false statement during the attempted purchase of a firearm in December.
Amber Lee Wheeler, 45, of Derby Line, appeared briefly in U.S. District Court in Burlington late Thursday afternoon.
Federal Magistrate Judge Kevin J. Doyle agreed to release Wheeler on conditions, including that she checks herself into Valley Vista, a residential drug rehabilitation center, as soon as possible.
While Wheeler is charged with the most recent attempted purchase, a court affidavit mentions at least three other completed gun buys, including one at a Barre firearms store in 2019.
Wheeler is named in a federal criminal complaint with attempting to buy a 9mm pistol on Dec. 23 at Wright’s Sports Shop on Community Drive in Newport, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives stated.
Wheeler falsely answered “no” when asked on a federal firearms purchase form if she was “an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance,” ATF Special Agent Tam Vieth said in a six-page affidavit.
Vieth said Vermont State Police troopers identified Wheeler “as an individual who may have witnessed events associated with the shooting” on the night of New Year’s Day.
It was during a subsequent interview about the Holland shooting that Wheeler admitted she is a drug user, the ATF said. Wheeler also admitted she used crack cocaine and fentanyl, Vieth wrote.
Wheeler told investigators that she obtained some crack cocaine from out-of-state drug dealers and that she had hosted them at her residence in December 2021, court records show.
Vieth’s affidavit said the attempted gun purchase was eventually denied on Dec. 27, but it was unclear how it was stopped.
When later asked why she checked the box for “No,” Wheeler responded: “Do you want someone to know you’re addicted to something when you are trying to get a gun to protect yourself?”
Vieth said he also determined Wheeler bought two handguns — a Ruger 9mm pistol and a Smith & Wesson 9mm pistol on Jan. 24, 2021 — at Wright’s and she again had checked “No” for the question about her drug use.
Wheeler also bought at least one other firearm — a Hi-Point model CF 380 pistol — from Wholesale Sports Northeast in Barre on Aug. 6, 2019, Vieth said in his court affidavit. The gun was recovered 79 days later from a suspect in Hempstead, New York, as part of a criminal investigation, the ATF agent wrote.
When asked about the two handguns bought in January 2021, Wheeler claimed she no longer had them and said they had been “stolen,” the ATF said.
Wheeler said it was common for drug users to buy guns for their drug dealers in exchange for drugs, but she did not admit to doing it herself, Vieth said.
The shooting in Holland remains under investigation.
Jason Willey, 38, of Derby Line, was critically wounded by a gunshot to the torso during the Jan. 1 shooting. His mother, Valerie Lyon, 57, also of Derby Line was shot in the arm and was in fair condition after the shooting.
The shooting happened near Valley and School roads about 8:20 p.m. The original report indicated it was a car accident, but when state police arrived they soon determined it was a shooting with the car going off the side of the road.
The victims were transported to North Country Hospital in Newport and later transferred to the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, police said.
Magistrate Doyle, during the hearing Thursday, contemplated ordering Wheeler held until the drug treatment bed was available, but defense lawyer Brooks McArthur said based on the criminal charge as filed, that was not an option under the law. A prosecutor agreed.
McArthur also noted Wheeler has three children and co-owns a home in Derby Line.
Doyle ordered Wheeler not to leave Vermont while her case is pending. He also said she could not use or possess guns, drugs or alcohol. She also must report any contacts with law enforcement to the U.S. Probation Office.
He told Wheeler she was entitled to a probable cause hearing on Feb. 16 unless indicted by a federal grand jury in the interim.