Criminal, civil court cases underway in case of Mystic couple killed by driver

May 8, 2019

More than two months after a Mystic couple was struck and killed as they attempted to cross Route 27 on foot, police and court officials have yet to release a police report in the case of a Groton woman charged in the crash.

Carol M. Belli, 73, of 4 Oak St. pleaded not guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs when she appeared Wednesday in New London Superior Court with attorney Trent LaLima of the law offices of Hubert J. Santos.

Judge Hunchu Kwak continued the case to June 11, when he said the court would hear arguments on LaLima’s motion to modify Belli’s conditions of release so that she can resume driving with an ignition interlock device on her car.

Judge Karyl Carrasquilla had ordered Belli on April 4 not to drink and not to drive, as well as to undergo substance abuse evaluation and treatment, if deemed necessary.

LaLima said, as he and Belli left the courthouse together, that his office is waiting for more information about the case. He declined to comment further.

Stonington police said that on March 9, Belli was driving her 2010 Ford Fusion north on Route 27 at 8:07 p.m. when she struck and killed Joanna C., 78, and Seth F. Wakeman, 88, of 199 Montauk Ave., Stonington. The couple had just left the Latitude 41 Restaurant and were crossing from the west side of the street to the east when they were struck in the northbound lane at the intersection of Rossie Pentway. It is unclear whether the Wakemans were in a crosswalk.

A copy of a misdemeanor summons that Stonington police issued to Belli for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is on file in the clerk’s office at the Geographical Area 10 courthouse. The alleged facts of the case and results of sobriety tests that may have been conducted on Belli that night are not contained in the file that is available for public inspection.

State’s Attorney David J. Smith and several other court officials said Wednesday that under Connecticut Practice Book rules of court procedure, the police report provided to the prosecutor’s office does not have to be disclosed to the public because Belli, who posted a $600 bond following her arrest, is not incarcerated.

Were she incarcerated, a judge would have had to review the report and make a finding that there was enough evidence, or “probable cause,” to hold her in custody. The police report or other documents used by the judge to make the probable cause finding then would be available to the public.

Stonington police also said they don’t have to disclose the police report because of their ongoing investigation of the case. A regional accident reconstruction team, consisting of members from the Ledyard and Stonington police departments, is conducting the investigation, and additional charges are possible.

“We are still working on the case actively,” Stonington Capt. Todd Olson said.

The Day has filed a Freedom of Information request with the police department seeking the police reports and other information.

Attorney John J. Nazzaro of The Reardon Law Firm, which is representing the Wakemans’ surviving children, said the firm has obtained some information and is conducting an independent investigation.

“It’s a tragic event,” Nazzaro said by phone Wednesday. “We’re obviously investigating and pursuing civil actions.”

Belli underwent a substance abuse evaluation at Life Happens LLC  of Groton pursuant to an April 4 court order, according to a court document. Counselor Douglas Lavine “attributed the defendant’s alcohol consumption to social and behavioral factors, not an alcohol abuse disorder.” The counselor recommended continued therapy, noting in a report that Belli’s responses to some questions may have been made in a defensive manner due to the severity of the case and emotional pain it has caused her and others.

The counselor also recommended that Belli undergo a hair follicle test to demonstrate she has not consumed alcohol, and that she only operate a vehicle with an ignition interlock device.