Windsor Locks CT Nov 19 2010 A Windsor Locks police officer whose vehicle struck and killed a 15-year-old boy riding a bicycle late last month was arrested Thursday night and charged with first-degree manslaughter.
The charge, a class B felony, means Michael Koistinen, 24, could face a sentence of up to 20 years if he is convicted. He also was charged with second-degree manslaughter, misconduct with a motor vehicle, negligent homicide with a motor vehicle and attempt to commit tampering with physical evidence.
Koistinen turned himself in at state police Troop H in Hartford late Thursday afternoon and was released after posting a $50,000 cash bond. His first court appearance is scheduled for Nov. 23 in Superior Court in Hartford.
Koistinen’s arrest ends the first part of a two-pronged state police investigation, which also is looking into whether Windsor Locks police officers tried to protect their fellow officer by not giving Koistinen a blood-alcohol test or a Breathalyzer the night of the crash.
Sources said that the investigation is ongoing and that one of the people under investigation is Sgt. Robert Koistinen, Michael’s father, who was the highest-ranking Windsor Locks police officer to respond initially to the accident.
Robert Koistinen accompanied his son to Troop H. Neither of them commented as they walked out.
State police had obtained a video of Koistinen drinking at a Suffield bar in the hours before the crash, which happened at midnight on Oct. 30. They also obtained witness accounts of the officer drinking alcohol outside a UConn football game in the preceding hours.
Koistinen, who was off duty the night of the crash, was traveling west on Spring Street in Windsor Locks when his vehicle hit a bicycle ridden by Henry Dang, who was riding home from a friend’s house on West Street.
Dang’s family thanked the state police Thursday night and said the arrest answers some of the questions about what happened that night.
“From the start we felt that my brother wouldn’t get justice and thought the officer would get off the hook,” Ha Tran, Henry’s brother, said. “We thought we would never have closure and never have the full story and why [Henry's] injuries were so severe.”
“You’re supposed to be protecting and serving us. You should be even more considerate in the community you live in,” Tran said. “It’s very careless. It shows the lack of care for people.”
Elliot Spector, Koistinen’s attorney, has acknowledged that his client was at the Suffield Tavern before the crash but said Koistinen was not drunk and was not on his cellphone when he hit Henry’s bicycle. Spector said Thursday night that he wanted to see the arrest warrant before commenting.
State’s Attorney Gail Hardy turned the case over to the state police a few days after the accident because of concerns that the initial investigation had been compromised.
Dang’s family had raised questions about why no blood-alcohol test was given to Koistinen, why he wasn’t asked to take a Breathalyzer test and why Robert Koistinen was allowed to oversee the initial accident scene.
Windsor Locks Police Chief John Suchocki could not be reached for comment Thursday night.
Windsor Locks First Selectman Steve Wawruck said that because the investigation is ongoing and “other results are forthcoming,” he didn’t want to say too much about the arrest or how the department handled the initial investigation.
“This is a tragedy in our town. A 15-year-old boy is dead and an off-duty police officer has been arrested for it,” Wawruck said.
Michael Koistinen was taken from the crash seen by ambulance that night. Dispatch records show that the ambulance wasn’t called to the scene until 12:31 a.m. and didn’t arrive until 12:47 a.m. He was removed from the scene at 1:04 a.m., more than an hour after the accident.
The ambulance carrying Michael Koistinen arrived at Johnson Memorial Medical Center at 1:31 a.m. Spector said Koistinen called an attorney and was advised not to let hospital personnel draw his blood. Under state law, if a person’s blood is taken during the normal course of treatment, police can get a search warrant for the medical records and conduct a blood-alcohol test on the sample.
The lack of a blood-alcohol test didn’t stop prosecutors from leveling several felony charges against Michael Koistinen that probably would cost him his job if he is convicted.
Under state statutes, a person can be charged with first-degree manslaughter if “under circumstances evincing an extreme indifference to human life, he recklessly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person, and thereby causes the death of another person.”
A person can be charged with second-degree manslaughter, a class C felony that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, if someone “recklessly causes the death of another person.”
Michael Koistinen has been a Windsor Locks police officer since February 2009. He is now on paid administrative leave. Robert Koistinen also has not returned to work since the accident and is using accumulated sick time.
Dang was killed as he rode his bicycle home from a friend’s house on West Street.
Spector has said previously that the bike had no reflectors or lights and that Koistinen had the green light. He said Koistinen never saw the teen and blamed the “tragic accident” on poor lighting at the intersection and Henry for crossing into the road when he had a red light. Spector said that the accident was “unavoidable” and that whether Koistinen was intoxicated or not was irrelevant.
“A person abiding by all the rules of the road and having never had a drink in their lives would not have been able to avoid an accident with the bicycle if he rode through the red light, at night, at that intersection with little visibility, with no headlights or reflectors,” Spector said.
Robert Koistinen was one of three officers who responded to the initial scene. Spector said that when the father realized his son had been involved in the accident he had a dispatcher call the chief and the regional accident reconstruction team.
Members of that team didn’t arrive at the scene until Michael Koistinen was already gone to the hospital.