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Driver sentenced to 14 years in triple fatal DUI wrong-way crash

By Karen Florin

Publication: theday.com

Published August 22. 2014 2:25PM   Updated August 22. 2014 11:44PM
Dana Jensen/The Day
Frank J. Sundstrom, center, listens to his lawyer, John C. Manni of Johnston, R.I., right, with his other lawyer, Felicia A. Manni-Paquette of Pawtucket, R.I., left, looking as he prepares to leave his sentencing hearing at the GA10 courthouse in New London Friday, Aug. 22, 2014 for the triple fatal DUI wrong way crash on I-95 in Old Lyme in December 2012.

Frank J. Sundstrom, who was drunk and driving the wrong way on Interstate 95 on Dec. 11, 2012, when he caused a head-on collision that killed three women, offered a weepy apology to the victims’ survivors Friday as he was sentenced in New London Superior Court to 14 years in prison.

“If I could give my life in exchange, I’d do it in a minute,” said Sundstrom, 53, of Warwick, R.I. “I’d make my wife a widow.”

Marjorie Minor, 90, of North Haven; her daughter, Barbara Prato, 63, of East Haven; and their friend, Tamara Nolin, 71, of Branford died at the scene of the horrific crash on the Raymond E. Baldwin Bridge. Nolin was driving her friends home from a birthday celebration at Mohegan Sun when their Nissan Maxima was struck head-on by Sundstrom’s Oldsmobile Alero as he drove north in the southbound lanes of Interstate 95 in Old Lyme about three-tenths of a mile south of Exit 70. The crash occurred almost instantaneously as state police began receiving 911 calls about a wrong-way driver.

Sundstrom, who was critically injured in the crash and is still on crutches, had pleaded no contest in June to three counts of second-degree manslaughter with a vehicle and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. His blood alcohol level was 0.197 about 1½ hours after the 9:06 p.m. crash, and 0.14 after 3½ hours, according to Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Mary Jean Kanabis. The legal level for driving is 0.08.

Incarcerated since he was arrested in August 2013 following a state police investigation, Sundstrom has been held in lieu of $750,000. He said he never tried to evade the charges. “I came to court willingly, knowing I faced a lengthy sentence,” he said. “That’s what a man does.”

The women’s survivors called on Judge Kevin P. McMahon to impose a 30-year sentence, the maximum allowed for the charges. One survivor walked out of the courtroom as Sundstrom began his apology and others rejected his remorseful words as they delivered victim impact statements to the court.

“Sorry won’t bring my aunt back,” said Nolin’s niece, Tara Barros. “She’s ashes and a grave in Old Saybrook.”

Barros, who lives in the area, said she drives that stretch of the highway almost every day. She said her aunt, whose injuries included a broken neck, broken spine and a bone through her heart, probably had time to realize she was going to die that night.

“I can imagine how terrifying it was to die alone on that horrible and rainy night, her friends beside her also broken and dying,” Barros said. “It’s not a peaceful way to die.”

McMahon, who had set the length of sentence following pretrial hearings with the prosecutor and Sundstrom’s attorneys, Felicia A. Manni-Paquette of Pawtucket, R.I., and John C. Manni of Johnston, R.I., said he had not come up with a number based on the value of the victims’ lives. The sentence was based, in part, on the circumstances of the case and the outcomes of other manslaughter cases. “We’re just doing a process,” he said. “We do realize drunk driving is a terrible thing. That’s why I bring people in to watch these (sentencings). All I can do is pass on a sentence I feel is appropriate.”

McMahon imposed the sentence of 30 years in prison, suspended after 14 years served, followed by five years of probation. He set several conditions of probation, including that Sundstrom be prohibited from drinking or using drugs, be required to use an interlock device if he is allowed to drive, undergo random drug and alcohol testing, serve a total of 300 hours of community service, attend sentencing hearings in other manslaughter cases and speak publicly once a year about the impact of drinking and driving. He also will be required to pay the women’s survivors for any verifiable out-of-pocket costs associated with the crash.

k.florin@theday.com

Twitter: @kflorin

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