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Mystic man charged with manslaughter in April fatal crash in Stonington

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Mystic — A few moments after Stonington police arrived on the scene of a head-on crash on Coogan Boulevard on April 22, Officer Tom Wholean began performing CPR on a woman in a heavily damaged Chevy Cruze who was not breathing and had suffered significant head trauma.

The driver of the second vehicle, a Jeep Cherokee, was pale, bleeding from the side of his head and had blood on his hands. He was pacing around the road, repeatedly saying "It's all my fault" and "Oh my God. I (expletive) up."

When Ryan J. Brown was asked by Officer Brian Discordia what had happened, Brown told him, "I was just texting and driving. I was on my phone. ... Oh my God."

The woman, Michelle L. McMullen, 52, of Norwich, was a medical assistant who had just left her job at the nearby Hartford HealthCare facility. She was taken to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, where she was declared dead 41 minutes after the crash. The cause of death was blunt trauma to the head, trunk and extremities. 

On Thursday morning, police charged Brown, 19, of 180 Breezy Knoll Drive, Mystic, with second-degree manslaughter, failure to drive right and use of a hand-held cellphone while driving. He turned himself in to police after they had completed their investigation and obtained a warrant for his arrest.

He was arraigned later Thursday in New London Superior Court and was released on a $100,000 bond. He faces up to 10 years in prison on the manslaughter charge.

The details of the crash are contained in the affidavit police submitted for Brown's arrest warrant.

The investigation, which included statements from a witness and Brown, found that he was driving east on Coogan Boulevard just before 12:30 p.m. April 22, when he crossed the double yellow line and struck the left front end of McMullen's westbound car about 400 yards west of Jerry Browne Road.

The affidavit, written by Sgt. Matthew Capalbo, states that there is no evidence Brown took any evasive or corrective action to avoid McMullen's car before the crash. A witness who was driving behind McMullen said Brown swerved over the yellow line and drove toward them. She said she thought Brown was going to correct his path but did not, and crashed into McMullen's vehicle. 

At the scene of the crash, the affidavit states Officer Edward Cullen detected a strong odor of marijuana coming from Brown. He also seized Brown's cellphone and Brown gave him the passcode. Police located a burned marijuana cigarette on the road near the SUV, noticed an odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle and on the passenger side floor found a clear plastic container of a material consistent with marijuana. Police later found drug paraphernalia in the car and partially burned marijuana joints. 

Brown was taken to L+M Hospital for treatment of his head injury. While there, police obtained a blood sample from him. Cullen also obtained a voluntary statement from Brown, in which Brown said he recalled looking down at his cellphone but was not sure why.

"It could have been to take a call, change the music or look at a text," he told police, and the next thing he remembered was that he had crashed. He said he got out of his car to check on McMullen but she seemed unconscious. He said he asked the witness what happened and she told him he had crossed over from his side of the road and hit McMullen's car. 

A toxicology report later showed the level of THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis and marijuana that produces the effect of feeling high, was at a level that causes impairment in six states that have adopted such limits in their driving under the influence laws. Connecticut has yet to adopt an impairment level.

The affidavit also states the data extracted from Brown's cellphone supports the conclusion he was using his phone at or about the time of the collision.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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