Final arguments made in Stamford manslaughter case

STAMFORD — Closing arguments were heard at the Stamford courthouse Thursday to determine the criminal culpability of a man accused of running over a Fairfield woman in a downtown Stamford crosswalk in early 2018.

George Christiansen, 40, of Stamford, is facing a felony second-degree manslaughter charge for running his company’s Dodge Ram Sprinter-type van over 58-year-old Lynette Wagner as the Fairfield woman was crossing Elm Street on the way to her job in the Henkel Building just after 7 a.m. on Jan. 2, 2018. Christiansen faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty at the bench trial presided over by veteran trial Judge Richard Comerford.

In a crowded fourth-floor courtroom, Christiansen’s attorney Lindy Urso said Assistant State’s Attorney Daniel Cummings has not come close to proving that Christiansen acted recklessly in killing Wagner.

Urso said video of the incident caught on a traffic camera at the intersection of North State and Elm streets showed Christiansen was driving south on Elm Street, getting ready to make a legal right turn during a red light onto North State Street. Just as he was doing this, Wagner came walking up on the northern edge of the sidewalk, pulling a legal briefcase on wheels, while Christiansen crept his van well into the crosswalk, getting ready to make the turn.

Just before stepping out onto the road’s crosswalk, Urso said Wagner veered to the right where it was very difficult for Christiansen to see her and he pulled forward, striking her with the right-front corner of the van and killing her.

Urso’s version of the event differed from the testimony of recently retired Stamford police Sgt. Andrew Gallagher, who said the traffic camera video showed that Wagner was more in front of the van than Urso claims.

“Notwithstanding Sgt. Gallager’s erroneous representation to the court in his arrest affidavit, the victim was not knocked to the ground right in front of the van. First, you can see that in the video. She was struck with the (front) right corner of the van and fell to the side,” Urso said.

Urso added that his client was an experienced driver, having driven the van for 18 months at work and has never received a ticket for a moving violation in his life. He also said because the sun was 14 minutes from coming up when the accident happened, that it was dark and Wagner was crossing the road on foot against the pedestrian light.

On top of Christiansen’s right blinker being on and visible to the mother of two, Urso said, his intention to make the right turn was made even more plain by having crept the van well into the crosswalk while getting ready to make the turn.

Finally, he said, according to Gallagher’s timeline, there was less than a half second between when Wagner stepped into the crosswalk and when Christiansen hit the throttle to move the van forward, trapping her under the front bumper.

“Your honor, I submit the evidence submitted by the state does not come close to proving a charge of second-degree manslaughter,” Urso said.” This was simply a tragic accident.”

But Cummings, who was assisted at trial by Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Mitchell Rubin, said just being in an accident does not relive Christiansen of his legal obligation to look carefully where he drives.

“This case is about the risk of this defendant putting his foot on the accelerator of a 6,000-pound van without looking in the direction he was going while surrounded by numerous indications that there could be pedestrians present. That was the risk in this case,” Cummings said.

Cummnings said the state had presented enough evidence to show Christiansen was guilty of the manslaughter charge.

“If the defendant was capable of seeing the front, right bumper area, I would tell the court he was capable of seeing the victim,” he said.

Wagner’s husband Tim Wagner declined comment at the end of the hearing.

After the arguments were over, Comerford said he would be making a decision on the case next week.