Families of wrong-way driver victims speak at arraignment
Family members of three women who died in a head-on collision in Old Lyme on Dec. 11, 2012, called for a high bond and a lengthy prison sentence at the arraignment of 52-year-old Frank Sundstrom of Warwick, R.I., who is accused of driving the wrong way on the highway while under the influence of alcohol.
Sundstrom turned himself in to state police at Troop F in Westbrook Thursday morning, knowing they held a warrant for his arrest. He appeared in New London Superior Court Thursday afternoon on three counts of second-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, driving the wrong way on the highway, illegal entry or exit on a highway and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Judge Karen A. Goodrow, who had signed the arrest warrant, set his bond at $750,000 and continued the case to Sept. 9.
Marjorie Minor, 90, of North Haven, Barbara Prato, 63, of East Haven, and Tamara Nolin, 71, of Branford died in the crash. Nolin was driving her friends home from one of the local casinos when her Nissan Maxima was struck by Sundstrom's Oldsmobile Alero as he drove north in the southbound lane of the highway, about three-tenths of a mile south of Exit 70. The crash occurred just as state police began receiving 911 calls about a wrong-way driver.
With the help of victim advocates from the court and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, family members — who had met earlier with prosecutor Mary Jean Kanabis — stood up one by one to tell the judge that Sundstrom should remain in prison on a high bond.
"The lives of three ladies were taken just before Christmas," said Nolin's brother, Keith Nolin. "I don't understand why the bond wouldn't be $750,000 for each of these individuals, because each of them was taken."
Prato's daughter, Melissa Prato, said the women were "full of life" and had been celebrating their birthdays that night.
"They didn't get to come home because of an alleged drunken driver," Prato said.
All three women died at the crash scene as the result of blunt traumatic injuries, according to an arrest warrant affidavit prepared by state Trooper Mark Farotti. Sundstrom was incoherent when state police approached his car, and his breath smelled strongly of alcohol, according to the affidavit.
His blood alcohol level was 0.197 in blood samples taken about 1½ hours after the crash and was 0.14 more than three hours later, according to the affidavit.
Sundstrom, who appeared in court in a wheelchair with his right leg elevated, was critically injured in the incident, underwent numerous surgeries and is unable to work, according to his attorneys, Felicia A. Manni-Paquette of Pawtucket, R.I., and John C. Manni of Johnston, R.I.
Sundstrom was accompanied in court by his mother, wife and other relatives. Manni said that Sundstrom was employed for 25 years as a machinist and toolmaker and worked at a shipyard in East Providence. Manni said Sundstrom and his wife lost two children "as a result of a rare medical situation" and that the wife is disabled as a result.
Interviewed by police the next day, Sundstrom said he and his wife had argued after he came home from work the previous day and that he watched a movie in his garage and doesn't remember anything after that. He told the trooper he didn't remember getting in his car and could not recall where he was headed. He said he is a social drinker and a recreational marijuana user but didn't remember using either of them that day.
A woman who was driving north on I-95 shortly before the crash told the investigator that she saw a car get on the southbound Exit 68 off-ramp and head northbound in the wrong direction. She said the vehicle immediately moved all the way to the right side of the roadway, traveling directly adjacent to the barrier. She said he accelerated rapidly and caught up to her, driving parallel to her car on the other side of the highway. She said she beeped her horn to get his attention.
Another northbound driver told the trooper he had seen the car stopped in the right shoulder at the top of the Exit 68 off-ramp on I-95 South. He said he crossed the Baldwin Bridge and was driving about 65 mph when the car passed him, driving the wrong way in the southbound lane, and collided head-on with another car.
Sundstrom's attorney said his client was not going to be able to post his bond right away. Should he make the bond, Judge Goodrow ordered that he post it in court. She ordered him not to drive in Connecticut or consume alcohol and said he would be strictly supervised by the Bail Commissioner's office while his case is pending.
Sundstrom had pleaded no contest in Rhode Island on Aug. 25, 2004, to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, a first offense. As part of the disposition of the case, he lost his license for three months, paid a fine and court costs and was ordered to undergo "driving while intoxicated treatment," according to the Rhode Island court system.
Sundstrom was convicted in 1979 for receiving stolen goods and paid a court fine, according to Bail Commissioner Tim Gilman. Court officials said they are continuing to review his criminal history.
Staff Writer Izaskun E. Larrañeta contributed to this report.