Friends, family recall couple killed in weekend crash in Mystic

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Stonington — Friends and family members on Monday shared fond memories of Joanna and Seth Wakeman, who were struck and killed by an alleged drunken driver outside Latitude 41 Restaurant in Mystic Saturday night.

Police said the Wakemans, who lived at 199 Montauk Ave., had just left the restaurant and were crossing Route 27 when a car traveling north struck them near the Rossie Pentway intersection around 8 p.m.

Police charged the driver, Carol M. Belli, 73, of 4 Oak St., Groton, with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs and said she could face more charges. Police haven’t said whether the Wakemans were in a crosswalk. Belli, released on a $600 bond, is due in New London Superior Court March 20.

Seth F. Wakeman, 88, was a former Quiambaug Fire District president and a longtime member of the Rotary Club of Mystic.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Lisa Tepper Bates, a Stonington resident who met Seth about 10 years ago through the Rotary. “Seth was just this incredible person who gave so much to his community.”

Tepper Bates said Seth, whom she described as patient and a joy to work with, would, “in the course of doing volunteer work, teach me things I never would have had the chance to learn.”

She recalled a time a few years ago, when, in preparation for the Rotary’s annual Lobster Days at Mystic Seaport, Seth taught her how to handle the large containers that hold the lobsters and saved the day when she nearly dropped one on her foot anyway.

Tepper Bates also enjoyed the conversations she had with Seth about community issues.

“Seth was a little older, but he was kind and balanced in his thinking,” she said. “We would have these conversations from different generational perspectives. … I valued that.

“He will be so greatly missed by friends young and old and so many in this community that were grateful for his leadership and his service.”

Ted Parker, who has been a member of the Rotary for 20 years, said the 55-person chapter set aside time during its regular business meeting Monday so people could remember Joanna, who was 78, and Seth, a past president of the Mystic club who also co-founded a chapter on Martha's Vineyard. About a dozen people spoke.

Most recalled the burly former fisherman’s dedication to the lobster fundraiser, which has since been discontinued. Some talked about how genuine he and his wife were when they invited other Rotarians to their home for dinner. One spoke of how Seth, a former banker, helped him get a loan to launch his business. 

Parker said Seth was passionate about Rotary International’s mission to eradicate polio, and also volunteered to ring bells for the Salvation Army each year.

“The last time around, he was getting to have a little less endurance, so he would bring a chair,” Parker said. “He mentioned, this is a bit of an improvement, because now I’m at eye level with the kids and can get them donating.”

“Seth was a huge Rotarian,” he said. “He was a real inspiration for a lot of people in the organization.”

Billy Rossi, the Wakemans’ nephew, said he, his wife, Megan, and his sister, Kristen, had just said goodbye to Joanna and Seth and gone back into Latitude 41 when the crash happened.

Rossi said he and Megan had gone to Latitude 41 on a whim because his sister is a general manager there.

“We joked on the way about running into Aunt Joey and Uncle Seth there because we always see them there,” Rossi said. “And lo and behold, they were eating dinner with their friends.”

Rossi said his aunt was a jokester and a straight shooter who could captivate anyone with her stories. His uncle, he said, was quiet but "incredibly kind."

He said the two had been together about 35 years and, though they had children from previous marriages, had none together.

Joanna and Seth spent summers at their home on Martha’s Vineyard, he said, and many of Joanna's stories centered around actor Ted Danson, their neighbor who played lead character Sam Malone on the NBC sitcom "Cheers."

“She could go on and on about something and you would never get tired of listening to her,” he said.

Rossi said he and his sisters loved visiting Seth and Joanna on the Vineyard.

“We had a silly ongoing joke,” he said. “Every time I saw (Joanna), she would ask me when was I coming to visit her, and I would say, ‘I always come over and you never answer the door!’ Silly stuff, but that kind of stuff sticks with you.

“People always talk glowingly about other people posthumously,” he said. “But Joey and Seth were truly wonderful people in every sense of the word.”

l.boyle@theday.com

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