Fatal Crash Raises Local Misgivings About Police

The Hartford Courant

Some town residents said Tuesday that they've lost faith in the police department and the first selectman is promising a separate probe in the wake of an officer's arrest and the ongoing investigation into the crash that killed 15-year-old Henry Dang.

"There are a lot of trust issues going on," said Martin Berube, who also is 15. "We need to definitely gain that back. It was sketchy how they did things."

Officer Michael Koistinen is facing manslaughter and other charges in the late-October crash that killed Dang. State police say Koistinen — who investigators said had been drinking before the accident — was traveling 73 miles per hour on Spring Street, a residential street, when he hit Dang, who was riding his bicycle.

State police also are investigating the department's handling of the crash and what happened afterward. According to police, Sgt. Robert Koistinen, Michael Koistinen's father, was one of the first responders to the crash. The arrest warrant revealed that state police believe Robert Koistinen might have driven his son back and forth from the crash site to the police station before an ambulance arrived.

Resident Sandy Bulack, 62, said that the actions of the Koistinens should not reflect on the other officers in the department, but that she was glad the state police are investigating the initial local response.

"Thank God the state police got involved," Bulack said. "The father was in essence protecting his son, but he was doing it in an illegal way."

First Selectman Steven Wawruck said the town and the police commission would start a separate investigation once state police have finished theirs.

"We as a town will be doing our own investigation once the state police investigation is finished to take any action we deem necessary as a result of what the investigation uncovers," he said, adding that personnel or policy revisions could be a result of the town's investigation.

Berube, his friends and several other Windsor Locks High School students said Tuesday that some of the details alleged by state police — that Koistinen was never given a breath or blood test to determine his blood-alcohol level, and the alleged actions of Koistinen's father — will make it hard for people to respect local police officers in the future.

"We're upset that he had to be drinking and driving and he hit our friend," said Kafa Alomari, 15. "I've forgiven him, it was an accident, but he should have showed a better example."

Alomari said students are trying to be positive and remember Dang's contributions to Windsor Locks High School, where he was a popular sophomore.

Students, like Noor Zaben, 16, and Jon Carr, 16, agreed that officers may get less respect from the community because of the circumstances surrounding the crash.

"I don't think there's any faith in the department anymore," said Melissa Izzo, 19. She said that police and teenagers already have a strained relationship in Windsor Locks, and that now it might get worse.

Others in town are taking a more measured stance.

"It's an unfortunate incident," said Valerian Leniart, 80. "It's an isolated incident. There's a lot … we really don't know … about."

But Leniart said members of the department should be disciplined if state police find any evidence of wrongdoing.

Helen Sherman, 89, said: "I think they need a refresher course in how to handle things; different obstacles come up."

Some residents, like Lori Wheaton, defended the department Tuesday.

"I support them and I have no problems with them," Wheaton said. "All this stuff against them is totally ridiculous. That was an accident."

She said Koistinen's father, Sgt. Robert Koistinen, "did the right thing" when he eventually excused himself from the scene of the accident after finding out his son was involved.

Windsor Locks Police Capt. Chester DeGray said Tuesday that the department would not comment because of the ongoing state police investigation.

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