Driver in I-395 fatal crash arraigned

Willis Goodale leaves the courtroom Monday after appearing before Judge Hunchu Kwak in Norwich Superior Court.  Goodale was ordered held on $750,000 bond.
Willis Goodale leaves the courtroom Monday after appearing before Judge Hunchu Kwak in Norwich Superior Court. Goodale was ordered held on $750,000 bond. Sean D. Elliot The Day Buy Photo

Outside Benjamin De Mond's Mopsic Street home in Norwich Monday, fellow firefighters helped Benjamin's parents, Greg and Dorothy, sort through their son's belongings.

The firefighters packed De Mond's children's toys to load into a van. His parents simultaneously smiled and cried as they saw the items.

Greg De Mond proudly showed off a two-seat jogging bike with worn tires zip-tied to the bicycle's frame.

"I can't tell you how many thousands of miles he ran with his boys," Greg De Mond said. "He couldn't wait for his days off because he loved being with them."

Benjamin De Mond, 33, was killed Friday night on Interstate 395, allegedly by a drunken driver. His children, Cole, 4, and Alex, 6, were also in the car and sustained serious injuries from the crash. They are at the Connecticut Children's Medical Center, where the younger child's condition was upgraded Monday to fair. His older brother remains in critical condition.

The driver of the car that crashed into De Mond's, Willis Goodale, 50, of Groton, was arraigned Monday in Norwich Superior Court.

His appearance before Judge Hunchu Kwak was brief. Assistant State's Attorney Thomas Griffin said that in addition to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, Goodale would also be charged with second-degree assault with a motor vehicle.

Griffin said more charges are pending as state police continue their investigation.

The court set bond at $750,000 and ordered that Goodale be placed on suicide watch and undergo medical and psychiatric evaluations. His case was continued to April 18.

Goodale's record includes only one prior arrest, in 1986, for illegal possession of narcotics.

De Mond, a native of Washington state, was new to Connecticut when he joined the Norwich Fire Department on March 2, 2006. His family was not in court Monday, but some of his friends were.

"We're a very close-knit community," said Lanie Estes, "and I felt it was important to be here and show support to the family, who cannot be here because they're at the hospital."

Police said the accident occurred shortly after 9 p.m. Friday when Goodale allegedly attempted to cut across the I-395 southbound lanes between exits 79 and 79A via the emergency turnaround after leaving the Mobil service station.

De Mond was driving south on I-395 when he lost control of his Nissan Maxima as he tried unsuccessfully to avoid Goodale's Jeep Cherokee. After the collision, De Mond's car ran through the turnaround and into oncoming traffic, troopers said, hitting Montville resident Andrew Crouch's car head-on and causing it to roll over.

De Mond's car then spun into the right lane, where it hit a vehicle driven by Albert Fisher, 58, of Lisbon.

Crouch, 59, was seriously injured and was listed in fair condition Monday at The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich.

According to a prosecutor's report, police found Goodale in the back seat of De Mond's vehicle, stroking De Mond's face. Police heard him say, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean for that to happen."

When the trooper asked him if he was involved in the accident, Goodale told him, "No, I stopped to help."

The trooper wrote in his report that Goodale smelled of alcohol and was unsteady on his feet. The trooper asked him how much he had had to drink. Goodale said he had been hanging out with a woman and had had a couple of drinks when he got into an argument with the woman's boyfriend.

Goodale was unable to tell police the woman's name or where the argument had occurred.

Police said Goodale was incoherent and needed to balance himself on his car. He told the trooper, "I don't even know him. I didn't mean for that to happen. I only met her twice."

Goodale consented to taking a blood alcohol test; the results have not been disclosed.

Greg De Mond said Monday morning that he couldn't bear to see Goodale in court.

"I could understand if he was killed in the line of duty," he said of his son. "I can make sense of that, but to be killed like this. ... I don't hate anyone, but I hate that guy for what he did to my family, for what he did to those boys."

De Mond said both children are expected to recover.

Benjamin De Mond will be buried in his native Washington state. De Mond said his son had been an Air Force firefighter and met his ex-wife while in the service. They were transferred to Melbourne, Fla., and once they finished their service they relocated to Connecticut.

"He was so mild-mannered," said Greg De Mond. "His sister was just remembering how he never raised his voice to her. He was intelligent. He had athletic skills, compassion. He had all these things. I never met anyone like him."

A fund has been established by the firefighters' union to help De Mond's children. Contributions can be made to the De Mond Children's Fund, c/o Local 892, 10 N. Thames St., Norwich CT 06360.

i.larraneta@theday.com

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