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Ex-officer Pleads No Contest In Deadly Crash

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DAVE COLLINS
Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A former Windsor Locks police officer pleaded no contest to second-degree manslaughter Tuesday and is to serve more than five years in prison for an off-duty accident that killed a teenager who was riding his bicycle in 2010.

Michael Koistinen, 26, of Suffield entered the plea in Hartford Superior Court, where his trial was scheduled to begin next week. He had faced up to 30 years in prison on charges of first-degree manslaughter, misconduct with a motor vehicle and tampering with evidence, before he reached a plea deal with prosecutors.

Koistinen had been drinking alcohol and was going more than 70 mph in a 35 mph zone when he hit Henry Dang, a 15-year-old Windsor Locks High School sophomore, who was riding home from a friend’s house at about midnight, authorities said.

Both Koistinen and his father, former Windsor Locks police Sgt. Robert Koistinen, were fired because of the accident. Robert Koistinen was also arrested and awaits trial on a charge of hindering the investigation.

Koistinen is to be sentenced on Aug. 27 to five years, four months in prison followed by five years of probation and 100 hours of community service. In addition to the manslaughter charge, he pleaded no contest to evidence tampering.

Dressed in a black suit, Koistinen stood next to his lawyer at the defense table while several relatives of Dang sat in the audience. He said “Yes your honor” several times as Judge Joan Alexander questioned him about the pleas.

Several members of Koistinen’s family also were in the courtroom, and some hugged each other in a hallway after the 20-minute hearing. Koistinen, his relatives and his attorney, Raymond Hassett, declined to comment.

Dang’s relatives declined to comment as they were ushered quickly out of the courtroom into a restricted staff area after the hearing. They were expected to speak at the August sentencing hearing.

The Dangs’ lawyer, Kathryn Calibey, said the family had no objections to the plea bargain.

Hartford State’s Attorney Gail Hardy read a narrative of the events leading up to and following the accident, saying Koistinen’s actions were reckless.

Police said Michael Koistinen had been drinking beer and other alcoholic beverages for several hours, including outside a University of Connecticut football game and at a Suffield bar, before the accident. One of the Windsor Locks officers who responded to the scene was his father.

A state police investigation found that Robert Koistinen drove his son away from the crash to the police station and back as many as three times, and later prevented an investigating officer from interviewing and getting a blood sample from Michael Koistinen while he was being treated at a hospital.

An 82-page independent investigation found a series of problems with the way police responded to the accident, including officials’ failure to question Michael Koistinen at the scene about possible alcohol consumption and their failure to test his blood-alcohol level. The report found no evidence of a cover-up, but faulted department officials for a lack of leadership and poor management.

Prosecutors said authorities found an unopened 30-pack of beer, several other unopened alcohol containers and alcohol bottle caps in Michael Koistinen’s car, as well as 10 to 12 beer cans in a cooler in the trunk. They also said a beer glass was found near the scene and officials believe Koistinen threw it from his car, which resulted in the evidence tampering charge. Police and paramedics at the scene said they didn’t notice any signs of Koistinen being intoxicated.

Because a blood test wasn’t done, authorities said they couldn’t charge Koistinen with drunken driving. Court records show that hospital officials destroyed a urine sample from Koistinen under hospital policy before police obtained a search warrant for Koistinen’s medical records.

Michael Koistinen’s former lawyer had denied allegations that Koistinen was drunk, and blamed the accident on darkness.

Last year, Dang’s family settled a wrongful death suit against Michael Koistinen and a former tavern owner for $420,000.

 

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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