Hartford Man Charged In Year-Old, Fatal Hit-And-Run
HILDA MUÑOZ, JEFFREY B. COHEN and DAVID OWENS
May 16, 2009
Nearly a year after Angel Arce Torres was hit by a car on Park Street, a 33-year-old Hartford man was charged Friday with driving the car that hit him, leaving him lying helpless in the middle of the street while bystanders looked on.
Luis Negron, 33, of 461 New Britain Ave., was charged with first-degree manslaughter, reckless driving, evading and several other motor vehicle charges.
Citing Negron's history of driving with a suspended license and convictions for skipping court dates, Judge Carl Taylor set his bail at more than $700,000.
Torres, 79, died Monday at Hartford Hospital after his family removed him from life support. The medical examiner ruled that he died of bronchial pneumonia due to a spinal injury.
The May 2008 hit-and-run "captured the attention not only of the city of Hartford but of the state of Connecticut and of the nation," said Hartford State's Attorney Gail Hardy.
"The defendant appeared to have remained in the area for at least the past year and never made an attempt to contact officials. These are actions that are cold and callous," she said.
Negron's attorney, Carmine Giuliano, said that the state's case was weak. There is no witness and no forensic evidence.
"There is no real evidence, there is no circumstantial evidence — there is only a hearsay statement" that Negron's girlfriend made to police, Giuliano said.
Negron had been in custody all day and night Thursday, wasn't fed and was told that if he "signed some papers he could leave," Giuliano said outside court Friday.
Negron was interviewed by police early in the investigation, but there was not enough evidence to charge him with the crime, according to an arrest warrant released after the arraignment. His name came up again on Tuesday, a day after Torres died, when police received a tip naming Negron as the driver who hit Torres, the warrant says.
Police also learned that Negron had been driving with a suspended license since 2003, and they used the information to pull him over Thursday night on New Britain Avenue. When questioned about the hit-and-run, Negron denied being a part of it, the warrant says.
Investigators then interviewed Sacha Marquez, his girlfriend and the mother of his child, who said Negron told her that he was involved in the accident on Park Street. After Negron learned what Marquez had told police, he admitted driving the vehicle that struck Torres, the warrant says.
Hartford Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts said that the reason for the day's delay in charging Negron was because prosecutors "upped the charges" from second-degree manslaughter to first-degree manslaughter.
Detectives have been working on the case for a year, been in close contact with the family and chased down various leads.
"[Negron] was a person of interest, but we really didn't have enough to tie him in," Roberts said. "After [Torres] passed away, we got fresh information."
"For the last 30 hours, detectives have been relentless," Roberts said at a press conference Friday afternoon at the Hartford Police Department. The primary investigators on the case were Det. Michael Chauvin, Det. Claudette Kosinski and Lt. Jason Thody, he said.
Torres' death Monday brought forth new calls from people with fresh information.
"When he did succumb to his injuries, people came forward," Roberts said. The department was "flooded with calls."
He also dismissed suggestions by Negron's lawyers that police coerced a confession.
"He was not under duress," Roberts said.
But the car that Negron was driving was not the car that struck Torres, Roberts said.
"The car is still out there," Roberts said, urging the public to come forward with information that helps police find it.
Torres' friends and family gathered at his wake Thursday night at St. Peter's Church on Main Street in Hartford. He was buried Friday at Mount St. Benedict's Cemetery in Bloomfield.
"Last night, at the wake for our father, we asked our father to help us out, to help us with justice," said his son Angel Arce at the press conference Friday. "We buried him today. We didn't know he was going to work this fast."
Arce said that his family is grateful to police for their work.
"I just want to thank this department," he said, turning to look at the detectives and others who worked the case. "Our hearts go out to all of you guys. … Thank you very much."
Torres was paralyzed from the neck down in the May 30, 2008, accident, which drew critical attention to Hartford as video images showed Torres lying in the road as bystanders appeared indifferent. He had been crossing Park Street after buying some milk and was struck by one of two cars that were apparently racing.
Torres died Monday about 9 p.m., with his family gathered around him, Angel Arce said.
Torres, who needed a ventilator to breathe, had been at the Hospital for Special Care in New Britain but was transferred back to Hartford Hospital several months ago when a host of medical problems began to emerge, Arce said. His kidneys were failing and he was no longer aware of who was there, his son said, so the decision was made to remove him from the ventilator that had sustained him since the accident.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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