Charges dismissed in crash that killed teen
JAFFREY — A local court has dismissed vehicular assault charges against a New Ipswich woman more than a year after she was involved in a fatal car crash that killed a Massachusetts teenager on Route 202.
8th Circuit Court Justice L. Phillips Runyon III ordered the case dismissed after the state failed to provide autopsy and toxicology reports of the deceased, an accident reconstruction report and other documents related to its investigation, according to court documents.
Rindge police arrested and charged Cheryl Teece-Jankowski, 51, of New Ipswich with two counts of vehicular assault, misdemeanor-level charges, in late August 2012. Police said at that time that Teece-Jankowski had crossed the centerline on Route 202, which resulted in the death of Jose Freitas Jr., 18, of Winchendon, Mass., and bodily injury to Freitas’ passenger, then 17-year-old Alyssa Ellsworth of Ashburnham, Mass.
Teece-Jankowski was driving a 2001 Chevy Blazer northbound on Route 202 between Market Basket and Walmart and Freitas was driving a 2000 Honda Civic in the opposite direction when the two cars collided head-on.
Freitas died from his injuries at the scene. Teece-Jankowski, who sustained serious injuries, was transported to Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough and later transferred to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon for treatment. Ellsworth and Teece-Jankowski’s passenger, then 57-year-old Susan Hillman of Peterborough, were treated at MCH and later released.
A trial in the case against Teece-Jankowski was originally scheduled for January 2013 at the 8th Circuit Court in Jaffrey, but was continued until April 24, 2013 to allow the state more time to gather evidence requested by the defense during pre-trial, according to court documents.
However, the day before the trial Teece-Jankowski’s attorney, Simon Brown of Concord, filed a motion to dismiss the charges against his client with prejudice. In the motion, Brown maintains that despite repeated requests, the state failed to provide police accident and investigation reports and an autopsy — including toxicology results — of the deceased. Rindge Police Chief Frank Morrill, who was slated to testify, was also unavailable on the day of the trial, Brown wrote.
“The failure to disclose the above-referenced evidence has substantially prejudiced the defendant and violated her due process and fair trial rights under both the state and federal constitutions,” Brown wrote in the motion to dismiss.
Brown maintains that the apparent lack of communication between investigative agencies has resulted in prejudice against Teece-Jankowski and warrants the case’s dismissal.
Justice L. Phillips Runyon III granted the motion to dismiss within 24 hours after it was filed.
Martha Jacques, who prosecuted the case for Rindge, could not be reached for comment by press time Monday.
According to Morrill, investigation into the cause of the March 2012 two-car crash left prosecutors with too many unanswered questions to prove intent and to argue in court whether operator error or mechanical failure or both were to blame.
By phone Thursday, Morrill spoke to the dismissal: “We did not have enough evidence to support DWI, speed, negligence or distracted driving. ...We weren’t able to disprove or prove mechanical failure because no vehicle autopsy was done.”
Although N.H. State police were on scene of the March 2012 crash, Morrill said the unit in charge of vehicle autopsies was not. Morrill — who was serving as Rindge’s sergeant at the time — said the state police tactical unit tasked with performing vehicle autopsies had recently changed unbeknownst to local law enforcement.
“Consequently, they refused to do an autopsy on a crash they didn’t investigate,” Morrill said. “Moving forward, if a similar crash occurs, we will be sure to request that unit’s response and services.”
Now the families of those effected by the crash say they are left feeling confused and angry as they try to move beyond a tragedy that changed their lives forever.
When asked if she could remember the moment of impact, Teece-Jankowski said Monday that she was knocked unconscious and doesn’t know what caused the accident. Teece-Jankowski and a friend, Hillman, were leaving Little Anthony’s Seafood Emporium, a restaurant in Winchendon, Mass., and were heading to Peterborough, according to police records.
“I woke up to the sirens and the rescue team. I remember I couldn’t feel my legs,” Teece-Jankowski said. “I had one time thought I’d had recollection of headlights coming at me, but I don’t know where that was.”
Although Teece-Jankowski said her vehicle came to rest over the solid, yellow line, she questions whether or not it was there on impact. “There’s no way to know,” she said.
Teece-Jankowski — who police said was not wearing her seat belt — sustained a broken hip and pelvis bone, six broken ribs, two crushed feet, a concussion and a torn rotator cuff in her left shoulder. Monday, she recalled being in the hospital for several weeks after the accident and the sense of shock she felt when she heard of Freitas’ passing.
“It’ll always be with me that this boy died. This was not an intentional thing and my heart grieves for his family,” she said. “It’s been a traumatizing year for me. I’m grateful to the community, my friends and my faith in God, which is what brought me through this.”
Melissa Garcia, Freitas’ mom, said Monday that she can’t escape the pain and confusion she’s felt since losing her son. Police investigation into the crash did not bring her closure, she said, but rather made her angrier as she sought some form of resolution.
“I feel like this investigation didn’t go anywhere,” Garcia said. “I lost my son and I think about him every day.”
Freitas, who was a part-time employee at Market Basket in Rindge for two years, was finishing up his senior year at Murdock High School in Winchendon, Mass. Freitas and Ellsworth had just finished up their shifts at Market Basket and were headed back home to Massachusetts on the night of the accident.
“He was such a good kid, an honors student who ultimately wanted to go into the Air Force,” Garcia said, adding that her son spent hours researching the U.S. Army. “Even though I wasn’t happy about him going into the Army, I couldn’t wait to see him in his uniform.”
Mary Ellsworth, Alyssa Ellsworth’s mom, said Thursday that her daughter and Freitas had a couple of high school classes together and had become close friends in the year prior to the accident. The guilt that Alyssa Ellsworth feels because she survived the crash and Freitas did not is something she still carries with her, Mary Ellsworth said.
“We can’t go back and change anything. We have to go forward,” Mary Ellsworth said. “I still have my daughter and I’m thankful for that. ...But she had to grow up too fast.”
Alyssa Ellsworth sustained a severe concussion and as a result frequently loses her balance, battles a constant headache and can’t sleep at night, her mom said. She also has short-term memory loss, back and hip pain.
After the crash, Alyssa Ellsworth was out of school for the remainder of the year. In the fall of 2012, she returned to school, but her neurologist will only let her attend part-time, Mary Ellsworth said.
Despite missing some school time, Alyssa Ellsworth will graduate this spring, her mom said: “It’ll be 15 months, to the day, since the crash.”
Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 228 or firstname.lastname@example.org. She’s on Twitter at @alyssadandrea.