Lyme man charged in fatal Old Lyme hit-and-run

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State police have charged a Lyme man in connection with a fatal hit-and-run accident in Old Lyme nearly a year ago that claimed the life of a 19-year-old Old Saybrook man who police said was left on the roadside for more than four hours before he was discovered.

Daniel J. Coffee, 36, of 96 Shore Drive in Lyme turned himself in Monday to state police at Troop F in Westbrook who had a warrant for his arrest. Coffee faces charges of misconduct with a motor vehicle, evading responsibility in a motor vehicle accident that results in a death and possession of a less than a half ounce of marijuana.

Coffee was charged as the result of an investigation into an Oct. 30, 2017, accident that resulted in the death of Yeison “Jayson” Gomez Cruz, a 19-year-old senior at Westbrook High School. Coffee was the target of a civil lawsuit filed earlier this month by the family of Gomez Cruz.

Gomez Cruz was found severely injured on the roadside of Boston Post Road-Route 1 in Old Lyme near the intersection of Sill Lane. At 1:49 a.m. on Oct. 30 a town worker operating a backhoe clearing tree debris from a heavy rainstorm spotted the unconscious Gomez Cruz.

Gomez Cruz was initially taken to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital with life-threatening injuries and died Nov. 11 at Yale New Haven Hospital.

Police investigating found a piece of clear and amber lens near Gomez Cruz that appeared to be a part of a headlamp. During a search of the area, police said they found the broken lens to be a match to damage to a 2000 Toyota Tundra pickup truck found backed into a driveway nearby, at 114 Sill Lane. The vehicle also had what police described in an arrest warrant affidavit as fresh damage that included a large dent in the hood and a bent antenna.

Coffee was found inside the home and when questioned told police he had struck a deer. He told police he had been fishing at Nehantic State Forest earlier in the day and later visited his cousin’s house. He said he “had consumed 8 or 9 beers over several hours and had been drinking at his cousin’s house,” according to the affidavit.

“Coffee was asked how he knew he hit a deer, and he indicated he has hit deer before so he knew he hit a deer. That he did not stop to check on what he hit nor returned to see the status of the deer or anything else he might have hit,” police said in the affidavit.

Police seized the vehicle, and Coffee surrendered his cellphone. But Coffee declined a blood test, “saying he had drank a few beers upon returning home and prior to going to bed,” police said.

Police learned that Gomez Cruz was working as a dishwasher at Stellas Restaurant on Route 1 in Old Lyme and had called a roommate at about 9 p.m. for a ride on the night of the accident. His roommates could not find him when they arrived. He was apparently walking home when he was struck, police said.

Joseph R. Mirrione, the attorney representing the family of Gomez Cruz in the lawsuit, said Monday that Coffee’s arrest, near the anniversary of his death, brought “tears of gratitude,” from his parents.

“They feel the road to justice for his senseless tragic death has started,” Mirrione said. “The family was very grateful the time had come that action was taken. They’ve sat with the fact there have been no answers for the past year. It’s been a painful time.”

Gomez Cruz moved to Connecticut from Guatemala in 2013 and is survived by his parents, Samuel Gomez and Glenda Cruz of Westbrook and two sisters. A varsity soccer player, Yeison loved to fish and was famous for creating original songs, “borne spontaneously from his own heart and delivered directly to his mother’s voicemail whenever he wanted to reassure her that he was safe,” his family said in a statement.

Coffee, whose address was listed as 130 Boston Post Road in Old Lyme at the time of the accident, appeared Monday in New London Superior Court, where his case was continued. He is free after posting a $75,000 bond and due to appear again on Nov. 17.

Misconduct with a motor vehicle is a Class D felony that carries a penalty of up to five years in prison. Evading responsibility of a motor vehicle accident that results in death carries a penalty of between two and 20 years in prison.

g.smith@theday.com

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