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Fatal Darien drunken driving case continues despite evidence error

Updated 10:30 pm, Tuesday, March 18, 2014
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STAMFORD -- A Stamford judge denied a motion to dismiss criminal charges against a Stamford woman whose vehicle struck two men on Interstate 95 in Darien in 2010, even though State Police mistakenly destroyed most of the evidence in the case.

The decision allows the case against Candace Blanks, 42, of Bedford Street, to go to trial on charges of leaving the scene of an accident and driving under the influence. A date for trial could be set in two weeks.

State Superior Court Judge Bruce Hudock ruled Tuesday afternoon that Blanks' attorney, Darnell Crosland, would be able to explore the destruction of the evidence at trial and the resulting inability of his experts to examine it.

Hudock said the destruction by state police officials was unintentional and based on the belief that the case had been resolved. Hudock previously said there was no evidence showing the destruction was malicious or intended to conceal anything favorable to Blanks.

Crosland said he would appeal Hudock's ruling.

Crosland had requested the charges be dismissed against Blanks because he said state police "intentionally" destroyed much of the evidence in the case, including the car Blanks was driving. Crosland said evidence in the car that was sent back to Blanks' insurance company and crushed, as well as biological evidence that was incinerated, could have helped to exonerate his client.

Without being able to analyze the evidence, Crosland said it may be impossible to determine what could have been used to help prove Blanks' innocence. Manslaughter charges were never filed against Blanks because accident scene investigators could not determine with any certainty whether she hit Felipe Chagas, 19, and Lucas Silva, 21, with her black Lincoln Navigator when they were on the shoulder or just inside the roadway while helping to change a tire just before 2:26 a.m. on Oct. 16, 2010.

State Police Evidence Manager David Nichols testified in late July that he believed the case had been disposed of when he ordered biological evidence to be incinerated.

Nichols, a 24-year veteran of the state police who became an evidence manager for the department in 2009, said he sent plastic and glass, as well as blood samples taken from the scene, to be destroyed in March of 2013.

"It was an oversight by me. It was a mistake," he said. Three days after the evidence was destroyed, he realized his error when he received an emailed request from a state police detective asking that the blood samples and other biological evidence from the case be sent to the state forensic laboratory for analysis to prepare for trial.

But videotaped evidence and reports of the accident not held in the state police evidence locker still exist and are being held by other state authorities, Nichols said.

Blanks failed field sobriety tests after the accident, but she refused to take an alcohol breath test at the state police barracks in Bridgeport. She was released after posting $250,000 bond.

Silva was dragged about 170 feet down the highway and Chagas was found underneath his friend's car. Both were dead at the scene.

Speaking for both families following the hearing, Fabiane Faria-Correa, a cousin of Silva, said, "We hope for a fair trial."

A date for jury selection and trial will be set soon.

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