Stonington police release report on fatal Mystic crash

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Carol M. Belli, "visibly upset and crying" after she struck an elderly couple as they walked across Route 27 in Mystic on March 9, smelled of alcohol and admitted she had consumed two vodka gimlets prior to the crash, according to a report released Thursday by Stonington police.

The tragic deaths of pedestrians Joanna, 78, and Seth Wakeman, 88, are the topic of criminal and civil cases that are getting underway in New London Superior Court.

On Thursday, in response to a Freedom of Information request, Stonington police released a police report of the incident that previously was submitted to the New London state's attorney's office but not available to the public.

The report, written by Patrolman Daniel J. Sousa, indicates that Belli, a retired elementary school teacher and principal, was arrested at the scene after submitting to — and failing, police said — just one of three Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. Both Sousa and Lt. Michael Peckham said they observed a "lack of a smooth pursuit" and a jerky eye movement known as "nystagmus" when Belli was asked to follow a stimulus with her eyes, according to the report.

Belli refused the next two field sobriety tests, known as the walk and turn and the one-legged stand, saying she thought it in her best interest to consult with a lawyer, and that she was scared. Officers retrieved some of her personal belongings from her car at her request and drove her to police headquarters without placing her in handcuffs.

She left a message for an attorney and submitted to a breath test after being read the Implied Consent advisory form, which indicates that under state law, a person who drives a vehicle has consented to testing to determine her blood alcohol content, the report says.

Belli was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs even though her blood alcohol level was below the legal limit for driving when she submitted to the breath test at police headquarters an hour and 19 minutes after the 8:07 p.m. crash.

The Drager Alcotest 9510 indicated Belli's blood alcohol content was 0.0686 percent. The legal limit for driving in Connecticut 0.08 percent.

Due to the seriousness of the crash, police took Belli to the Pequot Health Center for a blood test, according to the report. The results are not yet available.

Belli was headed north in her 2010 Ford Fusion when she struck the couple as they attempted to cross the street near the intersection of Route 27, also known as Greenmanville Avenue, and Rossie Pentway. A witness who was crossing at the same time said the couple, who had just come from dinner at the Latitude 41 restaurant, crossed the street just before getting to the crosswalk and were struck by a car going "a little too fast."

The report indicates the Wakemans were lying about 10 feet apart in the intersection and being helped by bystanders when officers Sousa and Chris Murray arrived. The officers also attempted to revive Joanna Wakeman, who had no pulse, was not breathing and had a severe laceration on the right side of her head. A woman who indicated she was a nurse was assisting Seth Wakeman, who was unconscious and barely breathing.

When medical crews arrived and took over the attempted life-saving efforts, Sousa sought out the driver of the Ford Fusion and found Belli, who was being consoled by a female bystander, according to the report.

The Wakemans were taken to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, where they were pronounced dead.

Belli told the officers she had just come from dinner, followed by drinks, at the Daniel Packer Inne. She said she was heading to McDonald's for some food before returning to her home in Groton Long Point. She said she was not drunk but wasn't "sober- sober." She said the traffic light was green and she was driving at a reasonable speed when, "out of nowhere," two pedestrians wearing dark clothing walked out in front of her and she struck them.

She has pleaded not guilty to the misdemeanor drunken driving charge and is being defended by the law firm of defense attorney Hubert J. Santos. 

Belli could face additional charges based on the results of an investigation being conducted by the Regional Accident Reconstruction Team, which comprises officers who have undergone specialized training to analyze numerous factors of vehicle crashes and determine what happened.

According to court documents, she is undergoing treatment for substance abuse and is seeking permission from the court to resume driving with an ignition interlock device on her car. Her next court date is June 11.

k.florin@theday.com

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