Thursday hearing in I-95 fatal crash
Waiting for closure: Relatives of two killed on I-95 frustrated with case's progress
STAMFORD -- For the past year and three months, a shared and suspended form of grief has brought the Chagas and Silva families together.
Lucas Silva, a 21-year-old Stamford resident and Greenwich High School graduate, was killed along with Felipe Chagas, 19, a college student from Bethel, while changing a tire on an Interstate 95 shoulder on Oct. 16, 2010.
Police said a black Lincoln Navigator, driven by 41-year-old Stamford yoga instructor Candice Blanks, hit the two friends, dragging Silva about 170 feet down the highway. Chagas was found underneath his friend's car on the southbound shoulder near exit 11 in Darien.
Silva immigrated to Connecticut from Brazil in 2007 and lived with relatives in a multifamily home on Colonial Road in Stamford. Chagas came to the United States as a child from Minas Gerais, the same Brazilian province as Silva, and lived with his parents in Bethel. During an interview on Dec. 30, both families said they feel disappointed with the slow pace of the case against Blanks and the message it sends to their friends and relatives here and in Brazil.
"It makes us feel helpless," said Fabiane Faria-Correa, a 31-year-old cousin of Silva. "It makes us feel hopeless. It makes us feel worried about our young kids and about where we are going with society in general, because there is no justice."
Blanks, free after posting $250,000 bond after her arrest by State Police, faces two charges of evading responsibility and a single count of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. She will appear at state Superior Court in Stamford on Thursday for a pre-trial hearing.
State police initially charged Blanks with two counts of vehicular manslaughter, a class C felony that carries a jail sentence of 1 to 10 years. Those charges were never filed against Blanks by prosecutors in Stamford. Whether a state police reconstruction of the accident could bring them back in play became the subject of speculation among lawyers representing the Silva and Chagas families.
In order to be guilty of vehicular manslaughter, a driver must have caused the death of another person as a consequence of driving drunk or while on drugs. In this case, defense attorney Darnell Crosland argues, there was no evidence that could prove Blanks veered into the breakdown lane when she struck Silva and Chagas. She failed field sobriety tests after the accident, but she refused to take an alcohol breath test at the state police barracks in Bridgeport, according to a state police affidavit.
Crosland, who represents Blanks, said the accident occurred on a dangerous stretch of highway with a narrow shoulder. Drivers have no room to change tires on that shoulder without being in the highway, he said.
"We put another car out there and on the same shoulder, and we just measured how much space it had," Crosland said. "If you step out of your car, you are in the highway. You cannot open your door and have room to breathe. You'll be directly in the travel portion of the highway."
Faria-Correa keeps a folder containing court documents from the investigation of her cousin's death. The family tries to keep updated on the case and relatives have met with prosecutors and state police investigators. Still, friends and relatives routinely pepper them with questions about the case.
"Sometimes I feel it's embarrassing when they ask, because we don't have an answer," said Alan Faria, Silva's 25-year-old cousin and former roommate.
Faria-Correa said prosecutors told the family they couldn't file vehicular manslaughter charges against Blanks without first determining the accident's exact point of impact. She also said prosecutors offered Blanks a five-year jail sentence, suspended after she serves at least two years in prison. The prosecutor, Supervisory Assistant State's Attorney Steven Weiss, said he could not comment on pending cases.
In contrast, Yadira Torres, 26, of Hartford, faces between five and eight years in prison after she pleaded guilty to two counts of vehicular manslaughter this past November. Following a night of drinking in New York City, authorities accused Torres of causing an accident that killed a 42-year-old truck driver and his 18-year-old pregnant girlfriend on I-95 near exit 10 last May.
Three weeks ago, 38-year-old former teacher Tricia Coccomo began serving a 12-year prison sentence for a drunken driving accident in North Stamford that killed three in 2005.
Crosland said the accident that killed Chagas and Silva was "an unfortunate confluence of events."
He said he plans on fighting the felony charges accusing Blanks of fleeing the scene of a fatal accident. After the crash, police first spotted Blanks and a friend standing near another car on Ledge Road, which runs parallel to I-95 between exits 11 and 10. Troopers noted they could see blood splattered on the smashed front fender of Blanks' SUV and inside its engine component, court records show.
"From my standpoint the case is just tough on both parties," Crosland said. "In many instances, there's this idea of victimology, that unless you hold somebody accountable there is no healing. But there are other ways to get through this without having somebody held criminally liable."
Faria-Correa remains unconvinced. She said several cars must have passed by Silva and Chagas as they changed a tire for a friend, and only one hit them. The two friends were coming back from a night out in Fairfield. Authorities declared them both dead at the accident site.
"And she didn't just hit them," Faria-Correa said, her voice rising and heaving as she recounted the accident. "She dragged them. She pinned them between the cars."
Shortly after the accident, Silva's cousins brought his body back to Brazil in a casket. Silva came to the United States to learn English and return to his home country with a high school diploma before beginning college there. Learning English would make him a more competitive college applicant. He graduated from Greenwich High School the summer before the accident.
Silva worked several jobs at local restaurants, and also taught swimming at the Greenwich YMCA. He met Chagas through a group of mutual friends.
Chagas' mother, Vera, 39, said her son wanted to pursue a career in business. He attended Naugatuck Valley Community College, where he planned to stay for two years until transferring to the University of Connecticut's Storrs campus.
"Until the case is done, we are never going to be able to grieve," said Pedro Chagas, the 47-year-old father of Felipe.
Staff Writer Jeff Morganteen can be reached at email@example.com or 203-964-2215.