Driver gets 5 years for hitting teen
Former Mohegan Tribe official also faces civil suit filed by girl's family
By Izaskun E. Larrañeta Published on 9/16/2009
It is parents' worst nightmare: an early morning call that their child was involved in a serious car accident and might not make it.
Nearly two years ago, Susan Holland and her husband, George Payne, got that call.
Their daughter, Emily Vanstaen-Holland, was struck by a drunken driver who then fled the scene as the 16-year-old and her friends were walking along a Quaker Hill road on Oct. 13, 2007.
The driver, Glenn R. Lavigne, 49, was sentenced Tuesday in New London Superior Court to five years in prison, suspended after two years served, followed by three years' probation for felony evading responsibility.
”So far, we still don't know whether Emily is going to recover fully from her injuries or the extent that the events of that night are going to have on her quality of life,” said a statement read by attorney Robert Reardon on behalf of Vanstaen-Holland's parents. “It has also been agonizing knowing that the person responsible for her injuries has not come forward and assumed any responsibility for what he did, let alone apologize for what happened.”
As Reardon read the statement, Vanstaen-Holland and her mother started to cry.
Reardon is representing the family in a civil suit.
Prosecutor Sarah Steere said Vanstaen-Holland sustained numerous injuries, including a skull fracture, pelvic fracture and kidney laceration. She said Vanstaen-Holland's condition was so grave that she had to be taken by Life Star helicopter to Yale-New Haven Hospital.
Steere said when police questioned Lavigne, he denied any involvement and said he was at his girlfriend's house all night.
But surveillance video showed that Lavigne, a former member of the Mohegan Tribal Council, and his girlfriend were drinking in a tribally owned bar at Mohegan Sun before hitting the victim.
Defense attorney M.H. Reese Norris said his client pleaded no contest, a plea that allows him to be convicted without admitting guilt for the crime charged, and would not speak on his own behalf because of the pending civil suit.
Judge Kevin P. McMahon acknowledged that Vanstaen-Holland was especially hurt because Lavigne never apologized or accepted responsibility for his actions.
”You're never going to get an apology with all the lawsuits,” said McMahon. “It hurts when someone does this to you. My hope is for the best recovery possible ... You are young - do the best you can to put it behind you.”
While on probation, Lavigne was ordered to undergo substance-abuse evaluation and treatment, not to drive without a valid license and to have no contact with the victim.
Evidence in the case was also ordered preserved so it can be used in the pending civil suit.
After the sentencing, Reardon elaborated on the nature of his client's injuries, which he said include a loss of smell and taste, inability to gain weight and a permanent limp.
In civil court, the victim's family is seeking monetary compensation under the Dram Shop Act as well as under laws forbidding reckless distribution of alcohol. The reckless distribution laws have no cap on the amount of the penalty.
In February, a New London Superior Court judge upheld a motion to dismiss claims of reckless service of alcohol brought by Vanstaen-Holland's family against the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority and some of its officials and employees who worked at the bar. The family is now appealing that decision.
On Monday, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal filed a brief in support of the civil suit, saying the state's two federally recognized casinos should be held liable in state court when a person who has been drinking at the tribally owed casinos causes a crash.
EDITORIAL FOOTNOTE: Taken from the New London Day newspaper. I will reserve my comments on this issue..