By DAVE ALTIMARI and HILDA MUNOZ, email@example.com
8:12 PM EST, November 9, 2010
State police have obtained a video showing an off-duty Windsor Locks police officer drinking at Suffield bar before he was involved in a car crash that killed a teenager, sources close to the investigation have told The Courant.
The video comes from a security camera at the Suffield Tavern, and sources familiar with the investigation said that Michael Koistinen, 24, can be seen drinking at the bar the night of Oct. 29.
Only moments after he left the tavern, Koistinen, the son of Windsor Locks Sgt. Robert Koistinen, was traveling west on Spring Street in Windsor Locks when his car hit Henry Dang, a 15-year-old who was biking home.
The state police are also investigating the response by Windsor Locks police.
Sources said local officers responding to the scene did not seek a blood test from Koistinen to check his blood/alcohol level and never administered a Breathalyzer test.
Under state law, a motorist can refuse to give a blood test or urine test or take a Breathalyzer test, but a written refusal is required. The refusal is reported to the Department of Motor Vehicles and can be used to revoke a driver's license.
DMV spokesman William Seymour said Tuesday that his department has no record of Windsor Locks police submitting paperwork indicating that Koistinen refused to take any of the tests.
Ha Tran, Henry Dang's 22-year-old brother, said the family believes Windsor Locks police handled the crash differently because it involved one of their own.
"We always felt like police officers are here to help us. But now they are trying to cover up for one of their own. They know the law. They know how to cut corners," Tran said as he sat in the family's apartment, across the street from the entrance to the town's police station.
Dang's family has hired Hartford attorney James D. Bartolini to represent them. Bartolini said that while he has hired his own investigators, he believes the state police and the Hartford state's attorney's office are investigating the circumstances surrounding the crash.
"I believe there is a very thorough investigation going on by the state police that is looking at all aspects of this matter including any actions by Windsor Locks Police Department, as well as actions of the vehicle operator," Bartolini said.
Sources familiar with the investigation said state police also have obtained a search warrant for Michael Koistinen's cellphone records. The sources said state police are trying to determine if the officer was on his cellphone at the time his car hit Dang.
In addition, state police are trying to determine the role that Sgt. Robert Koistinen played on the night of the accident. He was the duty sergeant in charge that night and was on the scene, according to several sources.
Tran said Windsor Locks Police Chief John Suchocki told the family that the elder Koistinen responded to the scene because of manpower issues.
"We feel, personally, that he should have excused himself,'' Tran said. "Their lame excuse [for why Sgt. Koistinen responded to the scene] was that there were only three cruisers on duty."
The Courant submitted a series of questions to Suchocki Tuesday concerning his department's handling of the fatal accident. The chief declined to answer, referring inquiries to the state police since they are now investigating.
Suchocki said that Michael Koistinen is on administrative leave with pay. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The North Central Connecticut Accident Reconstruction Team — which includes police officers from a number of area towns, including Windsor Locks — was called into investigate the crash, but that was several hours after it occurred and long after Michael Koistinen had been taken to a hospital in Stafford Springs, at least a half hour away from the accident site.
The reconstruction team was removed from the case three days after the crash by Hartford State's Attorney Gail Hardy, who asked state police to handle the case because of concerns about the initial investigation.
State police also have contacted officials at Johnson Memorial Hospital in Stafford Springs, where Michael Koistinen was taken, to see if any personnel took a blood sample while treating him. Under state law, police have a right with a search warrant to seek the medical records of a driver if the blood was drawn during the normal course of treating that patient.
Sources said it doesn't appear the hospital drew blood.
Investigators can use blood, urine or Breathalyzer tests to determine if a driver was over the legal limit of alcohol consumption at the time of a crash.
Jack Bucior, the owner of the Suffield Tavern, said he is cooperating with the investigation. He had no additional comment.
Dang was riding his bicycle home from a friend's house on West Street when he was hit and killed. Tran said Dang was supposed to get a ride home from his parents or his friend's mother, but decided to ride his bicycle because he was going to need it the next day.
A blue tarp and pylons on Spring Street mark off a long skid mark at the site of the accident. The state police accident reconstruction team visited the site late last week to do their own reconstruction.
Michael Koistinen was traveling west on Spring Street, coming over a little hill leading into the intersection where the crash occurred. There is a posted 35-mile-an-hour speed limit sign as well as a sign that a blind child lives nearby on Spring Street, within a quarter mile of the accident site.
Tran said his family visits the crash site two or three times a day to pray. Tran said that, based on the length of the skid marks, he believes Michael Koistinen was going well over the speed limit.
"If you're a police officer in the town, you should know the roads," Tran said.
State Police Lt. Paul Vance said the investigation is ongoing and he urged anyone who witnessed the accident or has information about it to call state police at 860-685-8190.
"We have interviewed a lot of people and found some witnesses,'' Vance said. "We are making progress with this investigation, but if there is anybody out there who may have information, we ask them to come forward."
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