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Statue of female veteran struck down in Sprague; driver charged

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Sprague — A statue of a female combat veteran was toppled by a man who was driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol Monday night, police say.

About 8:48 p.m., Tyler Gaudette of Vernon drove through a stop sign at Main Street and West Main Street in Baltic and turned left, driving his Nissan Murano off the road, according to Connecticut State Police. The 27-year-old drove onto the sidewalk, plowed through a stone wall and bench and struck the bronze monument, which depicts a uniformed woman clutching an American flag and kneeling before a statue honoring fallen service members.

When police arrived, Gaudette was found to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol and in possession of controlled substance pills, police said.

The statue, unveiled last November in Veteran’s Memorial Park, was installed to honor female combat veterans after years of fundraising by the American Legion Post 85. It was believed to be the first statue in the state commemorating the service of women in the military. 

The collision dislodged the statue from the stone pavers holding it in place and forced it forward onto the grass, according to state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, commander of Post 85.

“We’re just devastated because we had put so much time and effort into getting it done and we were so proud of it, we are still so proud of her,” she said.

She said the statue was evaluated by town officials and Richard Revere of Sprague, who originally helped with the stone work. “There isn’t a lot of damage ... but I convinced the town to move her inside for the night,” Osten said. “We don't want anyone to pick her up and take off with her.”

Osten, who is a veteran herself, said the statue was monumental for women in the military.

“It was the first statue in Connecticut for female military people and often they're kind of left off to the side,” she said. “We’ve had many female veterans who were coming by to see this, veterans from World War II and Vietnam, who said they never thought they'd see something that represented a female military person in their own image.”

She said it was part of larger efforts to add to Veteran’s Memorial Park. There are plans to add a male combat veteran statue beside the female one but fundraising efforts for it have been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, Post 85 may have to turn to more fundraising to finance repairs for the first statue. "I'd like to see her back up before Christmas," Osten said.

Gaudette was charged with speeding, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, failure to obey a stop sign and possession of a controlled substance. He was not injured in the crash and was taken to state police Troop E barracks in Montville, police said. He was ordered held on a $1,500 nonsurety bond and was scheduled to appear in court in Norwich on Dec. 17.

t.hartz@theday.com

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