Witness: Shooting happened in slow motion

New London - Lise-Marie Zanghetti, a volunteer EMT in Waterford, anticipated a medical emergency Wednesday afternoon when she watched a refrigerated truck careen out of control on two wheels while she was stopped at a traffic light on Bank Street.

The truck tipped over on its side and slid to a stop across the sidewalk on Jefferson Avenue.

But before the emergency medical technician had a chance to grab her first-aid bag, a New London police officer came running down Bank Street toward the truck with his pistol out, shouting, "Put your hands were I can see them."

What happened over the next three to five minutes, she said, unfolded in almost slow motion.

"(The officer) ran down to Jefferson and got right in front of the truck,'' she said on Friday. "He had his gun out, extended. It scared the (expletive) out of me.

"The officer was yelling in a monotone manner and repeated his statements four times,'' she continued.

The officer ordered the driver to put his hands where he could see them. He yelled, "Stand up and put your hands over your head in front of you."

"The person did not appear to comply,'' she said as she watched the stand-off, crouched behind her car. She could not see the driver of the truck from where she was.

"The officer repeatedly said, 'Do not put your hand behind your back. I'm warning you, do not put your hand behind your back. I've warned you, do not put your hand behind your back,'" she said.

Another officer, who had climbed on top of the truck, also with his gun drawn, peered into the cab and then slightly pulled back, she said. That's when shots were fired.

State police are investigating the police shooting of 27-year-old Curtis Cunningham, of New Haven, who had moments before allegedly stolen the truck from outside a Montauk Avenue liquor store. Cunningham remains in critical condition at Yale-New Haven Hospital.

New London Police Officer Thomas Northup, a 3½-year veteran of the department who fired his gun, has been assigned to administrative duty during the investigation.

Zanghetti said the police never said anything about a weapon. They gave the man in the truck multiple chances to obey their orders, she said.

"The officer never said, 'Put your gun down,''' she said. "I was surprised at how long the altercation went on for. I was surprised at how many warnings the officer gave."

After the shooting, Zanghetti said her training as an emergency medical technician kicked in, and she went to the trunk of her car for her first-aid bag. City firefighters were already tending to Cunningham, so she offered to help direct traffic.

For an hour, she stood at the intersection of Montauk and Bank and rerouted cars away from the scene. She was relieved of her duties when police realized she was an eyewitness. She gave a statement to state police.

Zanghetti said she has no idea why she uncharacteristically took a left onto Bank Street Wednesday afternoon when she left work at Bayard Inc., a publishing company located on the second floor of the Chelsea Groton Bank building at 1 Montauk Ave.

She said she always takes a right turn on Bank and then a right on Montauk to avoid traffic at the busy intersection of Bank Street, Ocean and Jefferson avenues.

She was headed to buy bottled water and fill up her gas tank in anticipation of Hurricane Irene when she came upon the scene.

On Friday, she said the entire incident kept replaying in her mind. She can hear yelling when she closes her eyes. While stopped at the traffic light, she thought the truck, which was about 5 to 7 feet from her car, was going to land on top of her. She put her hands up to protect her head.

"I think this is going to have a mark on me for a long time,'' she said. "I still feel on edge."

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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