Man acquitted of manslaughter in drunk driving incident
STAMFORD — Following a three-day trial, a Stamford judge on Tuesday acquitted a city man of vehicular manslaughter in the 2014 Interstate-95 death of an 18-year-old Long Island man.
Judge Richard Comerford issued a split verdict in the case that convicted defendant Jose Sierra-Velasquez, 30, of drunk driving in the incident.
Sierra-Velasquez’s attorney Philip Russell said the acquittal of the much more serious charge was the right decision to make.
“For the judge it was an issue of causation. The court found that there were so many intervening causes over which Mr. Sierra Velasquez had no control that it was legally impossible to find him responsible for the death,” Russell said. “I think it was a fair verdict and I believe the bench trial afforded my client a chance to have the evidence against him reviewed objectively.”
In the end, Russell said, the Connecticut State Police who investigated the accident found that the primary cause was the misuse of the highway by the pedestrian who lost his life. “So the judge’s verdict was consistent with the police investigation of the crash,” he said.
Sierra-Velasquez faces up to a year in jail on the DUI charge at his sentencing on Jan. 24, 2019.
The prosecutor on the case, Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Mitchell Rubin, said it was an important case to try because there was a fatality involved.
“I certainly respect Judge Comerford’s analysis,” he said.
The court trial stemmed from an incident early in the morning of Nov. 1, 2014 when Sierra-Velasquez was celebrating Halloween and driving his friend’s Honda Civic up the southbound on-ramp of Exit 7 on I-95, according to testimony in the case. A few moments previously, a car driven by a Long Island woman had been rear-ended and pushed into a concrete barrier before spinning back into the roadway and coming to rest sideways between the right and entrance lanes.
The Long Island woman’s friend, Derian Garaicoa-Ortega, pulled over to help, and tried to move the car, but it would not budge. Accident investigators testified that just as Sierra-Velasquez was driving up the onramp, Garaicoa-Ortega was leaning through the driver’s side window of the car that was stalled in the roadway.
When the Civic driven by Sierra-Velasquez plowed into the passenger door of the woman’s car, the force of the crash sent Gariacoa-Ortega flying 48 feet. He landed on the shoulder of the road just in front of his own car. An autopsy determined that Gariacoa-Ortega, 18, died of blunt force trauma to the torso caused by the crash.
After taking two blood samples from Sierra-Velasquez, investigators determined that he had a blood alcohol content level of .15, which is almost double the legal driving limit of .08.