A fatal car crash was caused by a driver who ran a red light while operating a vehicle that had no business being on the road, according to an arrest warrant from Ansonia police.
The Sept. 23 crash took the life of Garrett Dalton, a 78-year-old grandfather from Ansonia.
Dalton was a U.S. Army veteran with a deep roots in Ansonia — he graduated from Ansonia High School in 1959 — who had worked for the city’s board of education.
Police said Dalton was driving a 1992 Honda Accord on Main Street in downtown Ansonia at about 5 a.m. when Zachary T. Mercer ran a red light at Bridge Street and t-boned Dalton’s car, which bounced off another vehicle before hitting the glass doors of an empty storefront at 290 Main St..
Mercer was driving a 2005 GMC Sierra 2500, a pickup truck with oversized tires.
According to the arrest warrant written by Detective Brian Harte, police reviewed footage from a surveillance camera that showed Mercer running the red light and hitting Dalton’s car with such force the driver’s side tire blew off its rim.
A witness at the scene also said Mercer ran the red light. Mercer estimated he was going about 35 to 40 mph.
Dalton died at a hospital the next day due to extensive injuries.
Police launched an extensive investigation into whether there were any contributing factors to the crash. The investigation included examining Mercer’s cell phone data to determine whether he had been using it.
There was nothing to show he was using his phone.
Mercer himself said he had been momentarily distracted, according to the warrant, but couldn’t recall what specifically caught his attention in the seconds before running the red light. The Valley Indy left a message with Mercer’s lawyer.
“He said he turned his Spotify music on this cell phone and drive around the Valley for awhile before eventually driving north on Main Street,” according to the warrant. The phone was playing music through the vehicle using a wireless connection.
Also, Mercer told cops he had been drinking the day and night leading up to the crash, but had stopped consuming alcohol at 11:30 p.m. He estimated he had about 10 drinks over the course of the day and evening. According to the warrant, Mercer said he left a bar with friends at about 1:30 a.m., went to sleep about 3 a.m. but got up to go for a drive at about 3:40 a.m.
Regarding alcohol, police said Mercer did not appear to be under the influence immediately after the crash.
“This affiant spoke with Mercer multiple times throughout those early morning hours,” Harte writes in the warrant. “Mercer did not present with any indicators to suggest intoxication or being under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.”
But police found a number of issues with the truck he was driving — though police also note that no “pre-collision equipment failure” happened regarding the truck.
The vehicle had an expired registration from Texas. A source told police the registration was from Texas because the truck could not pass a safety inspection in Connecticut, according to the warrant.
Police discovered the truck was a salvage vehicle.
The state Department of Motor Vehicles sent a letter to Ansonia police stating Mercer’s vehicle was inspected and “failed for several safety violations that were found.” Some of the violations included issues with the tires, exhaust system, and the fact the battery wasn’t secure.
The DMV said they told Mercer the vehicle shouldn’t be driven from the inspection facility.
“Having been advised by a state official from DMV that it was illegal to drive his truck on the road, Mercer knowingly and intentionally circumvented the state motor vehicle salvage safety inspection and registration laws by acquiring Texas dealer plates,” the warrant concludes. “He drive his truck without passing the required re-inspection.”
Mercer is due in court Jan. 14 to answer charges of misconduct with a motor vehicle, reckless driving, operating a vehicle with out of state plates, and failure to obey a traffic control.