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Estate of Mystic couple killed while crossing street settles lawsuit for $1.25 million

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Stonington — Insurance companies for driver Carol Belli and the Captain Daniel Packer Inne, where Belli was drinking on March 9, 2019, before she struck and killed pedestrians Joanna and Seth Wakeman, have settled a wrongful death lawsuit brought on behalf of the couple's estate for $1.25 million. 

The parties quietly settled the civil lawsuit over the summer for the maximum amount available. Belli's criminal case, stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic, has not yet been resolved.

The Reardon Law firm represented the estate, which names the Wakemans' children as heirs. Attorney Theodore Ladwig is the executor for the Wakeman estate.

"I think the cases were worth more than what they settled for, but the practical reality was there was a limited amount of insurance available," said Kelly E. Reardon, managing partner of the firm.

Belli's $500,000 in coverage was split evenly between Seth and Joanna Wakeman, with the estate receiving $250,000 for each of them. Because the Wakemans had more auto insurance than Belli, the estate was able to collect an additional $500,000 through the CSAA Affinity Insurance Company.

The Captain Daniel Packer Inne's insurer paid $250,000, the maximum available under the state's Dram Shop Act, which holds a liquor seller liable for damage by an intoxicated person.

"We feel there really was no evidence of reckless dispensing of liquor, so there was no reason to attempt to proceed with that claim," said Reardon.

Belli, of Groton, had gone to the Captain Daniel Packer Inne that evening with a female friend from Waterford and admitted to consuming two drinks.

The retired principal and teacher 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 incident.

Belli has pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges and attended court several times. The state was expected to offer her a plea deal that would include a period of incarceration due to the tragic nature of the two deaths.

Reardon Law Firm partner John J. Nazzaro, who has been tracking the criminal case, said he doesn't expect a guilty plea from Belli any time soon, and that the case would likely be added to the trial list.

Trials have been delayed due to the coronavirus, and once they resume, Belli's case may not be a priority, since she remains free on bond.

Nazzaro said the firm considers its role in the case complete, now that a settlement has been reached, but that individual members of the Wakeman family have been in contact with prosecutor David J. Smith and Victim Services Advocate Johana Krebs.

Belli's next court date is Nov. 23.

k.florin@theday.com

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