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    Thursday, August 18, 2022

    Snow plow driver will not face criminal charges in death of Mystic man

    Mystic — A Naugatuck man who was driving a pickup truck that was plowing snow when it backed up and killed a 91-year-old man walking in an access road of the Stone Ridge retirement community in February will not be charged criminally. 

    Stonington police have completed their investigation into the Feb. 25 death of Chester Andrews, who lived at Jerry Browne Road facility and said the New London State Attorney's Office informed them Wednesday that it will not be pursuing criminal charges against the driver, 27-year-old Justin Best, after reviewing the investigative report. Police released a copy of the report to The Day on Thursday. 

    Blood tests taken after the incident found no alcohol or illegal drugs in Best's system. He did have a substance called Mitragynine, a legal plant-based supplement sold in stores and online under the name Kratom in his system. In low doses, it can act like a stimulant, while in higher doses it can reduce pain, enduce euphoria or act like a sedative. The report does not state the level of the substance in his blood.

    Andrews was seen on Stone Ridge video surveillance walking through the parking lot and behind the truck at 7:43 a.m. He was known for taking daily walks through the parking lots and roads of the facility regardless of the weather. 

    According to the report , the weather at the time of the accident included fog, sleet and snow and Andrews was not wearing any reflective clothing. He also was not using the adjacent sidewalk that had been cleared of snow.

    In addition, the report states Andrews' daughter, Kimberly Andrews of Ledyard, told police in March that "From my perspective it was a terrible accident and in my heart, there is no basis for further action such as criminal charges. I truly believe my father would've preferred not to also."

    Best will be issued an infraction for unsafe backing. 

    The report states that Best had two fellow employees in the truck with him so they could warm up when he backed up the truck 5 feet in preparation for pushing some snow. According to the report, video showed the right rear of the salter attachment strike Andrews, throwing him forward. He landed on the right front of his body and head and did not move. The pickup truck then went forward, running over his legs. That's when video shows Best and the two employees getting out of the truck and seeing Andrews.

    After the accident, two nurses who work at Stone Ridge performed CPR on Andrews before emergency medical personnel arrived and rushed him to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital in New London, where he was pronounced dead. The medical examiner ruled he died of blunt impact injuries to his head and neck.

    Best told police that he checked both side mirrors before putting the truck in reverse. He said as he moved backward, he felt a bump and thought it was a snowbank. When he pulled forward, he said he felt another bump. That's when the three men got out and saw Andrews on the ground and not moving. Best's co-workers confirmed his account and told police they had not seen Best consume alcohol or pills that morning. 

    The owner and the chief operating officer for the company Best worked for, Ultimate Services Professional Grounds, told police Best was a dependable and well-liked employee who had no history of accidents over his 10-year tenure.  

    The report states that police found the truck did not have a flashing strobe light, backing up alarm or camera, had an obstructed rear window and did not have an observer to help Best back up. While these are all federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, they do not apply to the Stone Ridge parking lot and driveways.

    Still, police wrote that Best "Had a legal obligation to make sure the path was clear before he backed up" and could have taken additional steps to ensure nothing was behind the truck.  

    j.wojtas@theday.com

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