A year after tragic crash, families have no answers
One year after a wrong-way driver on Interstate 95 crashed head-on into another car, killing himself and the other driver, there are still no answers for either family.
Most likely, there never will be.
State police closed their investigation into the March 25, 2010, incident in which 36-year-old Lance Lewis of Batavia, N.Y., drove south for three miles in the I-95 northbound lane before crashing into a car driven by Terrence Garbuzinski, 46, of North Attleboro, Mass. The accident happened near Exit 90 in Stonington.
The police report consists mainly of accident details, eyewitness accounts of the 7 p.m. crash and interviews with people who knew Lewis, who was driving sober.
The report reaches no conclusions other than stating that Lewis was at fault and posthumously levying three charges against him, including negligent homicide with a motor vehicle.
The two main questions - why was Lewis in Connecticut and how in the world did he wind up driving the wrong way for three miles on a major interstate? - remain unanswered.
"We're not an inch closer," one of Lewis' sisters, Shari Yark, said this week, adding, "It's horrible. The still wondering, it's horrible. … It's always going to be that way."
Jennifer Garbuzinski, widow of the other driver, described the aftermath of attempting to cope without answers as, "I can't say more than it is what it is."
"He's gone as well," Garbuzinski said of Lewis, "so there's not anywhere to put anger. So I can't hold on to anger because that would just be destructive to my family. So it's just a matter of accepting. It isn't going to change anything, whether it was an accident or wasn't. It doesn't change the circumstances."
Last year, after ruling out drugs and alcohol, police said they had to consider other scenarios, such as a medical condition or suicide.
To Lewis' family, the innuendo compounded their grief and tarnished Lewis' name. It was "hurtful," they said, and insisted that Lewis would never have done such a thing. They wanted the statement rescinded.
But the recent police report added more.
In it, police interviewed a supervisor and co-worker at the UPS distributorship where Lewis worked. The supervisor said Lewis displayed "extreme distance" from his co-workers in the week and a half before his death. A "model employee" for nine years, Lewis showed up late several times and called in sick twice, the supervisor said.
On the day of the accident, Lewis failed to show up for work and didn't call in. The supervisor said she called Lewis several times and believes he opened the phone and hung up rather than answering.
Another friend, who owns a landscaping business, described similar behavior. Still, Lewis had also told the friend that he could help out with the business after April 1. He asked a neighbor to watch his house while he was away. He was wearing his seatbelt when he died.
In the end, the interviews mean little. The report offers no conclusion.
"I've drawn my own conclusions, is my feeling on it," Jennifer Garbuzinski said in an interview this week, adding later, "To me, it just can't be an accident.
"And if there's no drugs or alcohol or medical condition - he just went too far on the highway, passed too many people going in the other direction. … I think everybody has to come to the conclusion they're comfortable in coming to, but I just cannot come to the conclusion that it was an accident. I can't find a reasonable way to that conclusion. I just can't."
Lewis' family did not want to comment. They did say, however, that they were unaware that the police report had been completed, or what it contained, until late this week.
In September, Jennifer Garbuzinski and her two sons attended a 25th reunion at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., from which Terrence Garbuzinski had graduated. Her husband's classmates had asked them to come.
"We had to think about it," she said. "We had planned to go as a family. Then it was, 'How hard is this going to be to be there without him?'"
The trip was "emotional, but it was good," Jennifer Garbuzinski said. "It was good to be there and hear stories about him."
She said she has been amazed at what she's learned about her husband since his death. A vice president at Sonalysts Inc. in Waterford and a captain in the Navy Reserve, Garbuzinski briefed the crews of fast-attack submarines as part of their pre-deployment training. He traveled frequently.
"It was very classified. He didn't talk about it a lot but we afterwards heard from more admirals and captains what his level of service was to the country," she said. "They're calling him things like a national treasure and irreplaceable and the key to all knowledge in the submarine force. … We knew he was good at his job, I knew he was smart, but we didn't know how good."
Her husband's passion was the Boston Red Sox. Garbuzinski said all of her husband's non-work clothing was Red Sox or Naval Academy attire.
"I don't think he had a piece of casual clothing that didn't have an emblem of some sort on it," she said with a small laugh.
On the night of the accident, Terrence Garbuzinski stayed late at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton because there was a raffle for tickets to a Red Sox game.
"He was later coming home than usual," she said. "It's one of those woulda-coulda-shoulda's."
'Full of life'
Lance Lewis loved kids, sports and the outdoors, said Shari Yark in a phone interview last year. He played on a state championship football team in high school and was named all-county in football and basketball. His family said Lewis would do chores for others and never asked for anything in return.
"Oh my God, he was fun-loving, always had a smile on his face," Yark said. "He lifted weights, ran, would do anything for anybody, was full of life. He was the total opposite of what (police) might have implied."
Lewis' mother died of cancer approximately three years ago, and he took it hard. He had taken care of her until the end, said a good friend, Steve Ball.
"He kind of changed and was never really the same," Ball said during an interview last year, soon after the crash.
Shortly afterward, Lewis became involved with the Jehovah's Witnesses. Although he spent more time with the church and less with his friends, Ball said, "I think he found what he was looking for. … I think he really felt a part of something, a belonging again."
After the crash there were indications that Lewis might have come to Connecticut for a Jehovah's Witnesses event. It is unclear what event that might have been; a local congregation didn't know of any conventions at the time and the congregation in Batavia did not return messages.
Ball said Lewis' friends were surprised to learn he was driving a lot for church events.
"He wasn't the greatest driver on a thruway system," said Ball, adding that Lewis regularly avoided a highway, Route 390, in the Rochester area.
"Every time we'd go to the city, he'd pass off driving to me. (He'd say) 'I don't like driving on those things,' " Ball said. "He never was really comfortable on them and I've driven with him a couple of times, and I understand why. Not that he couldn't, but I just don't think he liked to. … He's like my mom: an in-town driver."
Ball said Lewis' friends tried to deconstruct the accident, pinpointing where Lewis would have gotten onto the highway, where he might have stayed in the area, how he might have driven without realizing he was in the wrong lane on a major highway.
At the time of the interview, Ball and everyone else thought Lewis was in the travel lane of I-95 north, which would have meant he was driving in what would have been the right-hand lane for him. The police report, however, said the accident happened in the right lane of I-95 north; Garbuzinski was in the right lane while Lewis was driving in the lane that would have been the left lane for him.
The Garbuzinski family is finishing a settlement with Lewis' estate and insurance company over damages. Kelly Reardon, an attorney at the Reardon Law Firm, said Jennifer Garbuzinski wanted to make sure her children are taken care of.
The firm did its own investigation, Reardon said, and got no further than the police did.
"I think that has made it a lot harder for Mrs. Garbuzinski," Reardon said. "I think that the primary question on her mind all along has been, why did this happen? She, in a way, isn't able to close that door and begin the healing process because she doesn't have any answers."
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