AP NEWS
Related topics

Not guilty verdict in tragic Stamford pedestrian death

April 25, 2019

STAMFORD — A city man who ran down and killed 58-year-old Fairfield woman in a city crosswalk in January 2018 was found not guilty of manslaughter by a Stamford judge in a solemn hearing at the Stamford courthouse Thursday morning.

The defendant in the case, George Evan Christiansen, 40, who was facing as many as 10 years in prison if found guilty of the charge, walked out of the courthouse a free man.

“Obviously he is very relieved,” said his criminal defense attorney Lindy Urso. “A case like this has no winners, but I am very, very happy for Evan. This has been weighing on him since the day it happened and at least he can put this part of the tragedy behind him.”

Urso said that from the start, the police and prosecution overcharged Christiansen. “This was only a tragic accident and regardless of how they charged him, Evan wasn’t guilty of a crime,” he said. “It was just a tragic accident.”

The family of Lynette Wagner, who was killed at the corner of Elm and North State streets just after 7 a.m. on Jan. 2, 2018, declined comment while leaving the courtroom after Judge Richard Comerford handed down his verdict on the trial decided by the judge and not a jury.

This is Comerford’s fourth bench trial verdict in the past several months involving the deaths of pedestrians or passengers caused by motor vehicles where the drivers have gone free.

Just retired Stamford police Sgt. Andrew Gallagher, the lead investigator in the case, called Comerford’s decision an injustice.

“Another terrible injustice for pedestrians in Stamford,” Gallagher said. “It doesn’t matter if there is 23 feet for a vehicle to go around you and you are struck, or if a driver falls asleep, or if you get run over in a crosswalk. Even if it is recorded on video when you are killed, you still won’t receive justice. It is incredibly sad and frustrating.”

Wagner was killed just after stepping off the sidewalk and onto a crosswalk on Elm Street at North State Street. Christiansen, who was driving a work van, was getting ready to make a right from Elm onto North State in order to get onto Interstate 95, he said under oath in his testimony.

A video of the incident showed Wagner, who was pulling a wheeled legal briefcase, step onto the crosswalk in front of Christiansen just as he pulled forward to make the turn. Wagner was crossing against the pedestrian signal and Christiansen was making a legal right-on-red turn, testimony showed.

In a fourth-floor courtroom Thursday, Comerford said that he decided that Assistant State’s Attorney Daniel Cummings and Senior Assistant State’s Attorney Mitchell Rubin, who prosecuted the case, did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt the elements of the manslaughter charge, which involves proving Christiansen was reckless by being indifferent to a known and substantial risk of harm in the case.

Before rendering his verdict, Comerford said — possibly because he is getting older and his sense of mortality in the world is changing — he had enormous sympathy for those who have lost loved ones. As a Christian believer, Comerford also said when a loved one is taken away, he does not understand why.

“The loss is permanent and very difficult to deal with. She was a good woman. She is gone from us. Family was important to her. She was important to the family. All that one day, gone. You don’t know the day or the hour. It is terribly sad, terribly sad,” Comerford said.

Comerford also said that because of the nature of the second-degree manslaughter charge, he could not find Christiansen guilty of a lesser included offense. As a result, he said his “hands were tied” in considering Christiansen’s guilt on a lower-level criminal charge.

jnickerson@stamfordadvocate.com