PLAINVILLE - A local woman accused of driving under the influence when she ran over two other women over the weekend, killing one of them, has a history of DUIs.
Justine Cusick, 35, of 92 West Main St., was arrested Saturday night after police say she ran over two women in the driveway of 14 Bradley St., where she had been invited to a house gathering.
The police report identifies one of the victims as Deborah Sheak, 59, who died from injuries she sustained in the crash. The other victim, a 40-year-old woman, sustained minor injuries, the report continued.
Cusick was held in custody over the weekend and arraigned Monday in Bristol Superior Court on charges of second-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, misconduct with a motor vehicle, third-degree assault, driving under the influence, unsafe backing and second-degree reckless endangerment. During her hearing, court officials said she was convicted of DUI in 2003 as a double first-time offender - meaning prosecutors essentially treated two DUI arrests as one conviction in a plea bargain. She was sentenced in that case to six months in prison, suspended, and 18 months of probation.
Cusick, who did not enter a plea Monday, was ordered held on $150,000 bond during her hearing. Her case was continued to Nov. 14, when she will appear in New Britain Superior Court - where the most serious matters in the area are prosecuted.
According to the police report, Cusick and her boyfriend, Steven Saunders, 38, were at convenience store on North Washington Street Saturday when they met two people who invited them to a gathering at Sheak’s home, at 14 Bradley St. One witness said the couple spent about two hours at the home and drank beer while they were there.
Out of nowhere, witnesses told police, Cusick got upset about not being able to find her cell phone and implied that someone at the home had taken it, the report said. After getting into her vehicle with Saunders and driving away, according to witnesses, the couple returned to the home about 15 minutes later. While they were gone, Sheak told multiple guests at her home that Cusick had struck her in the face.
When Cusick and Saunders returned, about seven guests from the home came outside. According to the police report, the 40-year-old woman who survived the crash told police she approached the driver side door, along with Sheak, and asked Cusick why she had allegedly struck Sheak in the face. The next thing she knew, she told police, she was knocked to the ground and felt pressure to her legs. The woman then realized that Sheak was pinned underneath the SUV.
Witnesses said Cusick had put her Nissan Altima in reverse before her driver side tire ran Sheak over and knocked another woman to the ground. Police were called at 9:27 p.m. Before officers arrived, Cusick and Saunders were pulled out of their vehicle by the house guests gathered around the car and the group unsuccessfully tried to use a jack to get the vehicle off of Sheak.
Once police arrived, officers and the people around the SUV were able to lift the vehicle off of Sheak, who had a pulse at this point but was not breathing. Police, firefighters and medics provided medical attention to her until she could be transported aboard the Life Star helicopter to Hartford Hospital. Sheak was pronounced dead at 4:33 a.m.
The other woman hurt was taken to St. Francis Hospital for minor leg injuries, police said in the report.
While police were on scene, the report said, Saunders began walking away and was told to stop. He continued trying to leave and was charged with interfering with an officer.
When police spoke to Cusick, officers noted in the report, she smelled of alcohol. She said the group of people outside the home “swarmed” her vehicle and that she just wanted to get away from the “crazy situation,” as she was feeling intimidated after an argument about her phone had taken place. Cusick said she slowly reversed her vehicle then went forward, in an attempt to leave, before she heard people screaming at her.
Cusick said she never meant to strike anyone with the vehicle and that she didn’t feel anything that would indicate she had hit anyone. She also told police she had two light beers and a shot in the afternoon at an area restaurant, but that she had stopped drinking around 5 p.m.
Cusick failed the standard field sobriety tests, police said, and registered a blood alcohol content of 0.17. The legal limit in Connecticut for a driver is 0.08.
According to the report, officers said they found “alcoholic beverages” inside Cusick’s vehicle, but this discovery was not detailed further in the seven-page report.
Justin Muszynski can be reached at 860-973-1809 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.