Driver In Fatal Was Drinking At Casino

New London - The man who drove his car into a van filled with Connecticut College students Saturday morning, killing one, had been drinking at the Mohegan Sun casino prior to getting into his 2001 Honda, according to a state police sergeant.

In a statement given to investigators from state police, Daniel E. Musser, 24, of 200 Michelle Lane, Groton, said that he'd been drinking in the nightclubs at the casino, according to Sgt. Michael Collins, who was on duty Saturday morning when the crash occurred on Interstate 395 in Montville.

Collins said that Musser, a sailor at the Naval Submarine Base, failed a road sobriety test and then two Breathalyzer tests that were later administered at the barracks.

Shortly after 3:30 a.m. Musser left the casino and became confused when he tried to enter Route 2A. Instead of getting on the westbound lanes of Route 2A, Musser drove his car onto the eastbound side of the highway and headed west to the interstate, which he accessed by driving the wrong way down the Interstate 395 off-ramp.

Collins said that the barracks received three emergency calls about Musser's travels but that the troopers on duty were 10 miles away at the Foxwoods Resort Casino investigating a stolen vehicle found to be associated with a burglary in Philadelphia.

Collins said as soon as the calls came in troopers were redirected to the interstate. They could not get there before the crash.

Musser has been charged with second-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, among other charges. He is scheduled to appear in Norwich Superior Court this morning after being held over the weekend on a $100,000 bond at the Corrigan Correctional Center in Montville. He could face up to 19 years in prison.

When reached late Sunday, Jeffrey Hartmann, Mohegan Sun's chief operating officer, said, “Of course any tragedy like this is unfortunate, and we'll be working with state police to review the report and ascertain” whether Musser was patronizing the casino.

Sunday afternoon, a spokeswoman for Gov. M. Jodi Rell said that the tragic circumstances of the accident have made the governor question a proposal to extend the hours for liquor sales at the Mohegan Sun, Foxwoods Resort Casino and MGM Grand at Foxwoods.

Elizabeth Durante, 20, of West Islip, Long Island, N.Y., was killed when she was tossed from the livery van that was taking the students to Boston's Logan Airport for a humanitarian mission to Uganda. Seven other students in the van and its driver were taken to area hospitals for evaluation. All were treated and released except for Jennifer Blanco, 20, of Groton. Blanco remained at The William W. Backus Hospital in Norwich on Sunday and was listed in fair condition.

In February, Rell and Republican lawmakers proposed extending the hours for alcohol sales at the casinos as a potential way to help close the state's budget gap. Currently, bars at the casinos must stop serving by 1 a.m. on Sunday through Thursday and by 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

Collins said if the state approves the measure it would devastate the barracks.

”We're already stretched too thin as it is right now,” he said, adding that Troop E has the dubious distinction of leading the state for alcohol-related arrests and fatal accidents.

Soon after the accident, Connecticut College students began text messaging each other, and college officials sent out an e-mail about the accident.

Durante arrangements

Calling hours for Elizabeth Durante are 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at the Fredrick J. Chapey & Sons Funeral Home on Montauk Highway in West Islip. A funeral mass will be at 10 a.m. Thursday at the St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church of Bay Shore on North Clinton Avenue.

Khana Riley, 21, a senior who is friends with many of the students embarking on the trip, said at first she ignored her BlackBerry when it signaled she had a message from the school. Then a professor she works closely with called her.

”I went ballistic,” Riley said, adding that she raced to the hospital to check on her friends.

Stefanie Hinman of Norfolk had been Durante's roommate since their freshman year at Conn. Riley described them as inseparable.

They were the only juniors at the school living in a double room, Hinman said, and they preferred it that way because they agreed on everything and used one another's possessions indiscriminately anyway. The lived in the substance-free dorm.

Friday night, as they prepared to leave for Uganda on the trip they organized, the roommates didn't sleep.

”We made an Italian dinner, and Liz made her grandma's chicken, and the two of us spent most of the night packing and repacking” the 18 bags they were bringing, Hinman said. They carefully checked each by standing on a bathroom scale in their dorm to ensure none exceeded 50 pounds.

Saturday morning Hinman was in her father's car behind the van on the interstate. Hinman and another student were behind them because they could not all fit in the van.

”We didn't see anything of the other car,” she said Sunday. “All of a sudden (the van) was flipping.”

According to state police, Musser did not have the headlights illuminated on his car.

Harry Boardsen, owner of Livery Limited Inc., said Sunday that Faheem Muhammad, the van driver, was pretty banged up in the accident but was resting at his Groton home.

”We're keeping an eye on him. We're going to do whatever we can for him,” Boardsen said. “You can replace fenders, bumpers and even a whole car but you can't replace people. It's tragic.”

Boardsen said that every seat in the van, a 2006 Dodge Sprinter, was equipped with a lap and shoulder belt restraint and that all luggage was stored in a cage at the rear of the vehicle.

According to a police report of the accident, of the nine people in the van, two passengers, including Durante, were not restrained with a seat belt and it is not know whether four others used the belt to secure them to the seat. Three people, including the driver, used the shoulder and lap belt system.

In addition to her focus on improving the lives for children at the Asayo's Wish Network's orphanage in Uganda, Durante, along with Hinman, ran an after-school program at the Covenant Shelter in downtown New London.

”Our favorite, sort of fun thing to do was take some of the kids from there to campus,” Hinman said.

Durante and Hinman would take the children to shows and concerts at the performing arts center and to dinner at Harris Hall.

Riley said she's pretty sure Durante paid for the students' meals and tickets. She became teary when she talked about Durante's work with the children at the Covenant Shelter.

”I don't even know if they know,” she said, letting her voice trail off. “There are so many times I'd see a group of eight kids out there… she called them her kids. She never gave up on them. She was adamant about providing some sort of hope for them.”

Last spring, Durante and Hinman, both certified emergency medical technicians, began organizing an on-campus EMS service, that could be used to respond to alcohol-related medical calls. Eight students have since been certified and they were starting to look for funding for the program, said Jocelyn Briddell, dean of student life at the college.

”She didn't drink, and she just felt very committed to making sure that students were safe and she found other alternatives and ways to make a difference and not be one of those students who decided to suspend their lives while being in college,” Briddell said.

Some of Durante's friends are struggling with their emotions, particularly how to reconcile their feelings about Musser.

”It's difficult because I have to hate what happened and not necessarily the person because I know that he is going to go through a lot himself knowing what he did,” said Riley, who described herself as a deeply religious person. “Two lives, in a sense, were taken because he can never get that back.”

”It doesn't make sense. It does not make sense and it's so frustrating,” Riley said while trying not to cry. “I just have to have faith that there is something bigger that He's protecting her from. That's the only think I can think of that can ease any of my frustration.”

Counseling is available to students on the campus. A memorial service will not be scheduled until faculty, staff and students return to the college.

Staff Writers Kira Goldenberg And Michael Naughton Contributed To This Story.
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