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Guilty plea in Waterford drunken-driving fatality

September 18, 2018

A 28-year-old Colchester woman pleaded no contest Tuesday in New London Superior Court to causing a head-on collision in Waterford on Dec. 26, 2016 that resulted in the death of town resident Stephanie Turowski, 24, and seriously injured her mother.

Brianne Colonna will be sentenced Dec. 13 to 16 years in prison, suspended after 7½ years served, followed by five years probation.

Colonna was intoxicated, speeding and talking on her cell phone when the crash occurred about 1:30 p.m. on Boston Post Road near Reynolds Lane, according to prosecutor Sarah W. Bowman. Her blood alcohol content was .25 percent, which is more than three times the legal limit for driving of .08 percent.

On Tuesday, Colonna stood before Judge Kevin P. McMahon with her attorney, Forest E. Green, who entered written pleas of nolo contendere on her behalf to second-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, two counts of second-degree assault with a motor vehicle and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.  She responded quietly to a series of questions McMahon posed to ensure she understood the plea deal she was accepting.

The deal comes with multiple conditions, including the performance of eight hours of community service a week, while on probation, at an organization of the victims’ choice and making a charitable contribution, the amount of which has not yet been determined, to an organization chosen by the victims. Her driver’s license will be suspended while she’s on probation. As a convicted felon, her DNA will be taken and added to a database of offenders, and she will never be able to own a gun, the judge told her.

Victim Services Advocate LeeAnn Vertefeuille said the victims’ family strongly object to the plea deal and would be heard at the sentencing hearing. Turowski’s brother, Alex, and his girlfriend, Laura Welp, who was in the car with Turowski and her mother, Olivia Turowski, have been traveling to New London from Boston for Colonna’s court appearances, Vertefeuille said. They stood behind Vertefeuille as she read the family’s statement indicating that Colonna should receive a sentence that reflects the extensive suffering of the family and the community.

The prosecutor had sought a 14-year prison sentence for Colonna, but the judge offered 7½ years in prison based on the facts of the case and sentences handed down in similar cases. Colonna’s attorney had submitted to the court a report prepared by criminal defense mitigation specialist Clinton J. Roberts. The report indicates that Colonna was “in crisis” at the time of the crash, though the details of her circumstances were not discussed during the plea hearing.

McMahon told the survivors that the length of the prison sentence and probation are not reflective of the value of Stephanie Turowski’s life and the pain and suffering of the other victims and their families.

“That’s almost immeasurable, and it’s going to be there forever,” the judge said.

Civil lawsuits are also pending in the case.

According to an arrest warrant affidavit, Colonna was driving her Chevrolet Equinox north on Boston Post Road and Olivia Turowski was driving south in a Mazda 3 with her daughter in the back seat and Welp in the front passenger’s seat. The three women were heading toward Ulta in the Waterford Commons to go shopping and were wearing their seatbelts.

Colonna failed to negotiate a right turn in a construction area, and her sport utility vehicle crossed the double yellow line and struck the Mazda, head on. In the moments before the crash, Welp said it appeared the SUV driver was trying to “play chicken” with the occupants of the Mazda. The impact lifted the back end of the Mazda off the ground and sent it backward into a white Honda Accord. The occupants of the Honda were not injured. Colonna’s vehicle came to a stop on its side.

Information drawn from the Equinox’s event data recorder showed Colonna was traveling at 60 mph a half-second before the wreck. Colonna never used her brakes during the event, and police reported she was on her phone via Bluetooth connection from before the crash occurred until police worked to extricate her from the car following the crash, according to the prosecutor.

The Mazda’s event data recorder showed it had been going 31 mph 5 seconds prior to the crash and was down to 20 mph when the crash occurred because the driver was braking, police said.

The posted speed limit in the construction zone was 35 mph.

Stephanie Turowski was pronounced dead at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital.  The state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner conducted an autopsy and ruled the cause of death was a blunt impact injury to the torso.

Olivia Turowski underwent multiple surgeries for a broken elbow and a broken heel and suffered broken vertebrae. Welp suffered a broken arm. Both of them were treated at Yale-New Haven Hospital, as was Colonna, who also was injured.

Colonna smelled of alcohol and admitted to being intoxicated as medical personnel evaluated her, according to the state. Waterford Police obtained a search and seizure warrant for blood and urine testing to confirm the level of intoxication.

Police performed a reconstruction of the crash and obtained a warrant for Colonna’s arrest in March 2017. She has been free on a $150,000 bond while her case was pending.

k.florin@theday.com

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