Driver takes stand in Stamford pedestrian death
STAMFORD — A Stamford van driver, accused of running over a woman in a crosswalk in early 2018, took the stand in his own defense before testimony ended Tuesday in the trial of a tragic accident that took the life of 58-year-old Lynette Wagner of Fairfield.
George Christiansen is facing a felony count of second-degree manslaughter and faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty.
On the stand during the court trial, Christiansen, 40, explained that early on that January morning in 2018, he was picking up promotional brochures and pamphlets at a Springdale-based media company before getting on Interstate 95 to head to Westchester County to deliver the materials.
Rather than taking Courtland Avenue to get onto I-95 near McDonald’s on Stamford’s East Side, he decided to get on the highway on North State Street, he said under questioning by his defense attorney Lindy Urso. On Elm Street about to make a right hand turn on North State, Christiansen said he cautiously crept into the crosswalk, waiting for a break in the traffic coming down the Exit 8 ramp before he pulled onto the busy street that leads to the I-95 entrance.
Just as he went around the corner, video tape of the accident shows Wagner pulling a legal briefcase as she walked in front of the van while the pedestrian signal was giving her the red hand telling her to stop. She was run over and died a short time later.
Christiansen said he went back to where Wagner was and said he tried to talk to her, but she did not respond.
“I held her hand and told her she was not alone and tried to comfort her,” he said on the stand, before Judge Richard Comerford, who will decide Christiansen’s guilt or innocence, soon after final arguments are made in the case Thursday.
Christiansen told two officers that he made that fateful turn on a green light, but a video tape of the incident showed he was turning on a red light, which was legal to do. Under oath on Tuesday, Christiansen said he realized after seeing the video tape that he was wrong about the green light and said he did not mean to mislead the investigating officers.
While being cross examined by Assistant State’s Attorney Daniel Cummings, Christiansen said he was a vigilant driver and was forced to admit that there was a distinct possibility that pedestrians would be at that crosswalk, next to the Henkel building where Wagner worked.
Cummings tried to lead Christiansen to say he was watching the traffic coming down the Exit 8 ramp to the exclusion of everything else. But Christiansen said he had been getting onto the North State entrance ramp without incident about every other day for a year and a half since he got the delivery job.
“Is it fair to say that if you looked carefully, you would have seen her?” Cummings asked.
“I did look carefully,” Christiansen responded firmly.
When the state rested its case, Urso said he filed a 10-page motion for acquittal, saying that that judge should grant his motion because the state fell short of proving their case.
In the motion, Urso said that by filing a manslaughter charge, instead of charges such as misconduct with a motor vehicle or manslaughter with a motor vehicle, the state was not allowing Comerford to find Christiansen guilty of lesser included charges.
In three separate cases where defendants have been charged with manslaughter with a motor vehicle or misconduct with a motor vehicle charge, Comerford has found them guilty of lesser included offenses and imposed probation without any jail time.
As a result, Urso said in the motion, “It appears as though this was a decision by the State’s Attorney’s office to purposely ‘tie the hands’ of the fact finder, in this case the court.”
But Stamford State’s Attorney Richard Colangelo said charges are filed when the evidence can prove them.
“While it is not appropriate to comment on a specific case, the office does not charge to tie anyone’s hands. We charge the appropriate crime based on the defendant’s actions that we can ethically prove,” he said.