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Truck driver involved in fatal Old Lyme accident drove with suspended license

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Editor's note: This version corrects the age of Arturo Paez of Stratford.

A truck driver who is accused of starting a chain-reaction accident on Interstate 95 north in Old Lyme that killed two people and injured nearly a dozen people earlier this month was driving with a suspended license, court records show. 

Rowan Phillip, 66, of Sparta, N.J., was charged on Aug. 15, the day of the accident, with driving while under suspension, following too closely, two counts of misconduct with a motor vehicle and eight counts of second-degree reckless endangerment.

Witnesses told police that Phillip, who was driving a tractor-trailer owned by New England Motor Freight, caused the accident.

They told police that the truck was traveling north and failed to stop as traffic was not moving, the probable cause report said.

Phillip provided a written statement to troopers at Troop F in Westbrook. He said he was heading toward Rhode Island and had just driven over the Baldwin Bridge into Old Lyme when he saw that traffic was completely stopped.

He said he attempted to brake but could not stop in time, causing him to strike a vehicle, the report said.

He told police he then tried to veer over to the right shoulder to avoid striking another tractor-trailer unit that was stopped and in the process struck another vehicle.

Phillip told police he was initially traveling 55 to 60 mph while crossing the bridge and believes he struck the vehicle in front of him at about 30 to 35 mph.

Police noted that the road conditions were dry and the posted speed limit is 65 mph.

Police said they ran his license and it came back suspended as of Jan. 28, 2015.

The accident was reported at 5:38 a.m. and involved two tractor-trailers and six vehicles. Police said a total of 14 people were involved in the crash.

Seven were taken to area hospitals and one was flown by Life Star helicopter to Yale-New Haven Hospital.

Five of the victims sustained non-life-threatening injuries, including broken ribs, broken arms and cuts.

Three of the victims sustained serious injuries, including fractured vertebrae and swelling of the brain.

Two victims, Hilda Thomas, 61, of Abingdon, Md., and Stacy Lockhart, 39, of Selma, Ala., passengers in a Buick Encore, were pronounced dead at the scene.

Four people did not require medical attention. 

The highway was closed for much of the day as police reconstructed the accident. The investigation is continuing.  

The eight-car accident was the second that morning, after a 4:30 a.m. crash on the southbound side of the highway in which a tractor-trailer driven by Arturo Paez, 62, of Stratford, crashed into a guard rail and then into a concrete bridge support.

He was taken by Life Star helicopter to Yale-New Haven Hospital with serious injuries. His condition was never made available.

Phillip is represented by the law firm of Billings & Barrett LLC in New Haven.

On Aug. 19, the defense filed a motion to inspect and release the cab and trailer directly to New England Motor Freight.

The trailer was filled with undisclosed goods belonging to a third party. The defense also filed a motion to inspect and have reasonable test made on "any and all motor vehicles" involved in the case.

The court granted the motion in part, allowing the defense to inspect the New England Motor Freight trailer after police inspect it and while it is on state property or in police custody. The court also granted release of the goods inside the trailer.

The defense also stipulated to the release of property that was inside the involved vehicles to their rightful owners.

Phillip is out on a $50,000 bond and is scheduled to appear Sept. 4 in Superior Court in New London.

i.larraneta@theday.com

Twitter: @larraneta

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