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   Groton, CT-Tragic Outcome to House Party 

 

 

 

New London Day

 

Report: Teen Driver Was Intoxicated Report: Teen Driver Was Intoxicated

By Julie Wernau ,

 

Published on 9/29/2007 in Groton — It was 9:50 p.m. when Bruce Lee sent a text message to his 16-year-old son, Cameron.

“If you are over there you need to leave, nothing good will come of it,” Bruce Lee wrote.

A 17-year-old boy in the neighborhood was having a house party, and Cameron Lee had walked over to the party after work.

“k,” Cameron replied, meaning OK.

In the weeks and months following a January car crash that killed three people, including Cameron Lee, teenagers at the party — all of them underage — would tell police how between 30 and 40 Fitch High School students drank beer and played drinking games while the 17-year-old's parents were away.

This week, police charged the Mystic teen who threw the party with permitting a minor to illegally possess liquor on private property, an infraction that carries a fine of $146. The teen was not identified because state law bars the release of names of minors charged with all but the most serious crimes.

Groton Town Police released the contents of an eight-month investigation Friday after sitting down with each of the surviving families to go over its contents.

The investigation found that Lee was drunk, speeding and crossed the double yellow line the morning of Jan. 28. Lee was also driving later than a state curfew for 16-year-old drivers, the investigation concludes, and with a passenger in his car, which is against state law for young drivers.

The Lee family did not return a call Friday seeking comment about the release of the report.

Some statements were omitted from the final report, including those of the 17-year-old who hosted the party and those of the teen's family. Police said those statements were omitted because they are relevant to the 17-year-old's infraction, which still needs to be adjudicated through the court system.

The report also contains several conflicting statements regarding Lee's whereabouts from the time he left his house at 9 p.m. until the time of the accident.

Teenagers' accounts of when Lee arrived at the party vary widely, and while Lee's friends told The Day shortly after the crash that the teen had driven to several different locations throughout the night, none are mentioned in the report.

•••

When emergency workers arrived at the scene of the Flanders Road accident, the flames that surrounded Lee's Oldsmobile Alero were so hot that Master Police Officer Randy Winkelman said he couldn't get closer than 50 or 60 feet to the vehicle — where Lee remained trapped inside.

Lee, of 88 Farmstead Ave., Mystic, a baseball and football player at Fitch, was one of three people killed in the two-car car accident, which occurred early on the morning of Jan. 28.

John Geise, 52, of 10 Lema Drive in Mystic, who was driving the second car, and his passenger, Wayne Lecardo, 33, of 663 Groton Long Point Road, Groton, also died in the crash. The two were leaving their shift at Foxwoods Resort Casino, where they worked as butlers at Grand Pequot Tower.

When police arrived, Nelson Panganiban, 16, the only survivor of the wreck, was sitting on the ground, at the edge of the Interstate 95 south overpass, visibly shaken and complaining of pain in the leg and ankle, Winkelman wrote.

It wasn't until the fire was extinguished that the officer said he was even aware of the second vehicle. The 2006 Audi was lodged up over the guardrail of the bridge on the southbound side of Flanders Road.

The Audi's control module and air-bag modules, which electronically record data, were damaged in the crash and not useful to investigators. Their only clue to the Audi's speed was the speedometer, which was frozen between 50 and 55 mph.

Information from an electronic module in Lee's car was downloaded by Connecticut State Police. The wheels were turning at between 89 and 101 mph in the five seconds before the crash, according to module data. Neither vehicle swerved nor braked before the crash, according to the report. All occupants were wearing seat belts.

Groton Town Police Lt. John Varone said Friday that investigators were not able to verify the speed of Lee's car, only that it was going faster than the Audi — fast enough to stop the forward motion of the Audi and push it backward.

While several people arrived on the scene immediately after the crash, there were no other witnesses, Varone said, only the lone survivor of the crash and a grainy surveillance tape from a nearby transfer station.

An autopsy revealed that Lee was driving with a blood alcohol limit of .12, six times the legal limit of .02 for underage drivers and well above the legal limit of .08 for adult drivers.

•••

Three days after the crash, Panganiban was interviewed at his home at 64 Round Hill Road — where he was recovering from a broken ankle, punctured knee and abrasions. He told police that Lee and another boy, Travis Wenke, had been at the party about 15 minutes before they decided, around 1 a.m. Sunday, to go to McDonald's in Groton.

Lee's father told police that his son left for the party about 9 p.m. Saturday.

Panganiban, who denied there was drinking at the party, did not return a call Friday seeking comment.

Lee was using his high beams, Panganiban said, and Panganiban remembered seeing lights coming toward them. The other car crossed the double line, he said. The last thing he remembered before blacking out was Lee riding the brakes and steering hard to the right to avoid the other car.

When he came to, Panganiban told police, the car was stopped in the road, air bags deployed. He said he felt pain in his leg and that the crash had knocked the wind out of him.

“He unbuckled his seat belt, opened the passenger door and rolled out of the car. He looked into the car but could not see Lee,” the report states.

Panganiban said he tried to get up, but his leg gave out. He got up again and limped around, trying to see into the car. The engine was on fire, and he called out to Lee. He could hear a man's voice tell him to get away from the car. He saw a woman on a cell phone, Panganiban told police, and the man told him to sit on the curb.

•••

Kate Stein, the widow of Wayne Lecardo, did not return a call seeking comment about the report. Jennifer Geise, the widow of John Geise, said she did not want to comment other than to say the report speaks for itself.

The report gives credit to several agencies, including Ledyard police and state police. It also reveals the difficulty police had in interviewing witnesses, particularly teenagers.

During one interview, a mother kicked a detective out of her home after the detective had interviewed her son for six minutes because the questions were upsetting her son. She refused to allow her son to be interviewed at another time, the report states.

In addition, a dozen or so teenagers who saw Lee at the house party that evening told police they didn't know whether or not he had been drinking.

j.wernau@theday.com

 

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