State to make plea offer in Mystic pedestrian double fatality case
A prosecutor will extend a plea offer next month to the retired educator charged with negligent homicide and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs in the March 9, 2019, deaths in Mystic of pedestrians Joanna and Seth Wakeman.
Carol M. Belli, 74, of Groton, who is being represented by attorney Trent LaLima, has pleaded not guilty to the charges in New London Superior Court. During a court appearance Monday, Supervisory Assistant State's Attorney David J. Smith said he would be making Belli an offer at her next court appearance, on Feb. 24. If she accepts the offer, she would plead guilty to the charges and be scheduled for sentencing. If she rejects the offer, the case would go to trial.
Should she be found guilty of the charges, Belli could be sentenced to up to 1 1/2 years in prison, including six months for each count of negligent homicide and six months for a first offense for driving under the influence.
Stonington police said Belli was driving her Ford Fusion on Route 27 when she struck and killed the Wakemans, an elderly couple from Mystic, as they attempted to cross the road near Rossi Pentway. Police allege she failed field sobriety tests at the scene. They charged Belli immediately with driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, even though her blood alcohol level was below the legal limit of 0.08 percent for driving.
Police added two misdemeanor counts of negligent homicide to Belli's charges in October 2019 after completing a lengthy investigation that concluded Belli and the Wakemans were both at fault for the tragic incident.
In Belli's case, police said the retired elementary school teacher and principal consumed alcohol while taking an antidepressant and was driving an estimated seven to 14 miles above the posted 30 mph speed limit. Belli had gone to the Captain Daniel Packer Inne that evening with a female friend from Waterford and admitted to consuming two drinks.
Her blood alcohol level, taken by Breathalyzer one hour and 19 minutes after the 8:07 p.m. incident, was 0.0686 percent. The legal limit for driving is .08 percent.
The Wakemans had dined at Latitude 41 restaurant and consumed at least two drinks each, according to witnesses. The investigation revealed that the Wakemans, both dressed in dark clothing, and their dining companions walking in front of them, had not pressed the pedestrian crossing signal and had walked onto the roadway slightly outside of the crosswalk while the traffic light for vehicles was green.
Autopsy results indicated they also had detectable blood alcohol levels: Seth Wakeman's was 0.03 percent and Joanna's was 0.09 percent.
Attorney John J. Nazzaro of the Reardon Law Firm is representing the Wakeman estate in a civil wrongful death lawsuit that names the Affinity Insurance Company, Captain Daniel Packer Inne, Ltd., Daniel Packer Inne permittee Lucille J. Kiley and Belli.
Several motions have been filed in the civil case, which alleges in part that Belli, who had insurance through AAA, was underinsured. The estate also alleges that the Daniel Packer Inne is liable for providing her "large quantities of alcoholic beverages" even though she was "obviously and visibly intoxicated." Attorneys for the insurance company and Daniel Packer Inne have denied the allegations and responded that the Wakemans' deaths "were directly and proximately caused by (their) own reckless and/or intentional conduct."
Editor's Note: This version corrects the maximum amount of prison time Belli could receive.
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