More than three years after a Roosevelt Drive crash killed a Derby woman, a New Haven man charged in the case received a fine after pleading no contest to reduced charges Nov. 26.
Christmas Neustadter, 43, pleaded no contest to charges of reckless driving and failure to drive right before Judge Charles Lee at Superior Court in Derby, according to court records.
Judge Lee fined Neustadter $300 for reckless driving and $90 for failure to drive right in accordance with a plea deal with prosecutors, Neustadter’s lawyer said.
A plea of no contest, or nolo contendere, means a defendant does not dispute the charges against him, but does not admit them either — though a judgement of guilt is entered in the case.
Neustadter was arrested by Derby police in the case in May 2011 after a nearly yearlong investigation of the fatal June 7, 2010 crash on Route 34 that took the life of Marie Lepri, 43.
The charges he faced initially included negligent homicide with a motor vehicle.
Lepri, a mother of two, was headed westbound in her Toyota Corolla that day when her car collided with a Toyota pickup driven by Neustadter, who was driving east.
Lepri was killed instantly in the crash, which took place in the section of Roosevelt Drive referred to locally as “Pink House Cove.”
Civil Case Settled
It has been a tough three years for the Lepris, a family with extensive roots in Seymour. Marie Lepri’s mother passed away in July 2012. Her 40-year-old sister died from cancer last June.
Tuesday’s disposition in the criminal case came after a lawsuit filed by Lepri’s family against Neustadter was settled out of court.
Dominick Thomas, a Derby lawyer who represented Lepri’s family in the civil case, said the lawsuit was resolved through a “lengthy mediation.”
Thomas said a confidentiality agreement prevented him from disclosing the settlement’s specific terms, but that the case was resolved to benefit Lepri’s two young daughters.
As a result, he said, the family left the outcome of the criminal case up to prosecutors.
“We had focused on the two minor children and took the position that we left it up to the appropriate decision of the state’s attorney in this case to resolve it,” Thomas said Wednesday.
The Valley Indy left a message at the state’s attorney’s office at Superior Court in Derby Wednesday morning.
Lawyer: Client Did Nothing Wrong
Neustadter’s lawyer, Edward Gavin, said Wednesday that Neustadter maintained his innocence throughout the case. The car wreck was a tragic accident, Gavin said.
“From the very instant the accident happened, Mr. Neustadter, who was horribly injured as well, maintained that she had drifted into his lane and he was trying to correct when the collision occurred,” Gavin said.
The lawyer said Neustadter was returning home to New Haven from work in Danbury the day of the crash.
Gavin said Neustadter was willing to go to trial, but the plea offer was “almost impossible to turn down” given the risk associated with a trial.
“If you wound up going to trial and you wound up being convicted on a case where there’s a fatality, there’s going to be a likelihood that you’re going to be exposed to some serious incarceration,” Gavin said.
“The way that we resolved it was the best way for all involved,” he went on. “I don’t think (Lepri’s family) wanted to wind up going through a trial when the civil case was resolved.”