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fatal hit-and-run

July 2, 2019 - 6:32pm
posted by Lauren Leone in Darien, news, crime, notify, fatal hit-and-run, jennifer serrano.

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Jennifer L. Serrano, 48, of Irving, was convicted this afternoon of vehicular manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident without reporting, driving while intoxicated, and aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle at the conclusion of her six-day trial.

After less than three hours of deliberation in Genesee County Court, jurors rendered a unanimous guilty verdict on all four counts.

Serrano stood trial for killing 18-year-old Connor Lynskey with her Jeep Wrangler last August as both individuals traveled along Sumner Road in Darien after a concert at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center.

The decision came shortly after the jury requested to review Deputy Robert Henning’s body camera footage, which captured Serrano participating in field sobriety tests and refusing an Alco-sensor test. This video appeared to be a deciding factor that helped refresh jurors' recollections of early evidence in the case and expedite their verdict.

Defense attorney Frank LoTempio spoke about his client’s disappointment upon receiving the verdict.

“We didn’t receive one decision in our favor," LoTempio said. "The cards were kind of stacked up against us. But, the jury rendered their verdict, and we live with that."

LoTempio said that the trial’s proximity to the July 4th holiday may have contributed to the quick verdict, and defense counsel may potentially appeal the case.

After his court victory, District Attorney Lawrence Friedman expressed his satisfaction with both the verdict and the case he presented to jurors. He commended the Lynskey family for seeking justice for Connor’s death.

“They’re strong people,” Friedman said of the Lynskeys. “They were here for every single court appearance no matter how minor it was. They made a six-hour round trip for every court appearance.”

“Even when the testimony or the evidence was certainly unpleasant for them, they were here," Friedman said. "I’m sure it was a very difficult thing, but it was obviously something that they needed to do. They got through it, and I’m sure that they’re glad that they were here."

Serrano faces a prison term of four and two-thirds to 14 years upon sentencing. Judge Charles Zambito adjourned the court awaiting Serrano’s sentencing at 9:30 a.m. Aug. 19 in Genesee County Court.

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Top photo: The mother of Connor Lynskey, Donna, leaving court after the verdict, with Lawrence Friedman. Bottom photo, his father, Michael Lynskey. Photos by Lauren Leone.

June 27, 2019 - 9:33pm

Defense counsel called its first witness, Sgt. Jason Saile from the Genesee County Sheriff's Office, to testify about the motor-vehicle accident reconstruction that he conducted Aug. 11 after a hit-and-run accident in Darien that killed 18-year-old Connor Lynskey. 

Saile said his assignment was to document the evidence found at the accident scene on Sumner Road and draw conclusions about the vehicle-pedestrian collision based on his certification in accident reconstruction.

In Saile’s accident reconstruction report, he noted that the only environmental factor that may have influenced alleged drunk driver Jennifer Serrano was decreased visibility due to the darkness of the unlit road. Otherwise, Sumner Road was clear, dry and its pavement relatively even.

When defense attorney Frank LoTempio asked whether intoxication played a role in the accident, Saile responded with, “Absolutely.” The sargeant maintains that alcohol consumption around the time of the Jason Aldean concert at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center affected the perception of both pedestrian Lynskey and driver Serrano as they departed the performance. 

Saile also attested to the fact that the crash data reporter in Serrano’s Jeep did not detect any signs of heavy braking, swerving or a change in velocity as she traveled along Sumner Road. Her vehicle, according to Saile, never slowed down or maneuvered at any point before or during the impact with Lynskey. 

Earlier testimony from Nathan Balduf, deputy and motor-vehicle inspector with the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office, offered that there were no vehicle mechanical failures in relation to the accident. Saile testified that no skid marks from Serrano’s vehicle were observed on the pavement or gravel shoulder.

Lynskey’s behavior on the night of his death was brought into question before jurors. LoTempio alleged that Lynskey was in violation of NYS Vehicle and Traffic Law 1156b, which states pedestrians must walk against the direction of traffic where sidewalks are not provided. The landing spot of Lynskey’s body indicated he may have walked or jogged in the same direction as Serrano’s Jeep.

A diagram of the accident scene on Sumner Road was also produced by Saile during his investigation. Although Saile reported an 87-foot debris field along both the road and the shoulder, the sergeant said it was difficult to determine the exact location of impact due to the unknown velocities of both Lynskey and Serrano. 

Saile also testified he is uncertain of his initial finding that the collision occurred on the pavement rather than on the shoulder. This discrepancy evoked emotion in Frank LoTempio, who remarked in his opening statement that Lynskey may have been hit because he was intoxicated and tripped on the pavement in front of Serrano’s vehicle. 

Tensions peaked when District Attorney Lawrence Friedman objected to questioning about a footprint found in the gravel and the possibility of Lynskey falling. Friedman argued LoTempio did not establish evidence or expertise for Saile to testify that Lynskey tripped. 

LoTempio insisted the sergeant could speak to the evidence he used when preparing his motor-vehicle accident reconstruction. The attorneys grew so animated that Judge Charles Zambito excused the jury for a 10-minute adjournment and called a bench conference. 

Serrano is charged with vehicular manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident without reporting it, driving while intoxicated and aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle. Jurors will attempt to reconstruct the accident scene for themselves as the trial continues at 9 a.m. tomorrow in Genesee County Court.

January 14, 2019 - 9:16pm
posted by Billie Owens in crime, news, notify, jennifer serrano, Darien, fatal hit-and-run.

An evidentiary hearing that grew testy at times was held in Genesee County Court this afternoon in the case of Jennifer L. Serrano.

The 48-year-old who lives on Charles Street in Irving is charged with second-degree vehicular manslaughter in the death of 18-year-old Connor Lynskey and leaving the scene of a personal injury accident. She remains in jail on $100,000 bail or $200,000 bond.

It is alleged that in the early morning hours of Aug. 11 that an intoxicated Serrano struck and killed Lynskey, of Hinckley, on Sumner Road in Darien but didn't stop to help or call the police. Lynskey was reported missing that night after the Jason Aldean concert and officers patrolled the area, including Sumner Road, but nobody saw Lynskey or any evidence of an accident.

The next morning, Deputy Richard Schildwaster, checking Sumner Road, found debris in the roadway and when he got out of his vehicle and looked around, he found Lynskey's body in a ditch.

How Serrano first came to the attention of Sheriff's Deputy Robert Henning was part of the testimony given at what is known as a Huntley hearing to determine what will be admitted into evidence. It is believed that Henning encountered Serrano after the fatal hit-and-run had occurred.

Under questioning from District Attorney Lawrence Friedman, Henning said at 12:56 a.m. he was traveling northbound on Route 77 heading to the county jail with a male who had just been arraigned in Darien Town Court on a criminal mischief charge.

Henning said he noticed a white Jeep Wrangler backing out of a residential driveway and it was stationary on the eastside of the roadway. 

Under questioning from one of two defense lawyers present, Henning later noted that when he spotted the Jeep he was traveling 55 to 60 miles an hour in a 55-mph zone. Traffic was moderate that evening, he said, due to the concert ending at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center not long before.

If Serrano's vehicle had stayed on the shoulder, he said he would have driven past her. But suddenly the Jeep pulled onto northbound 77 right in front of the deputy's vehicle and Henning said he had no reason to anticipate the Jeep's action and did not slow down.

Instead, he slammed on his brakes to avoid a collision and swerved into the southbound lane of 77, where "fortunately, no cars were coming."

Defense Attorney Frank LoTiempo asked if the soon-to-be-inmate in the backseat of the patrol vehicle was injured in the violent slamming on of brakes and if injuries were reported. Henning said he recalls some part of the arrestee "moving forward and some contact was made" with the divider between the front and rear seats, but no injuries were sustained, thus none reported.

"Were there skid marks?" LoTiempo asked.

"I didn't look," Henning said.

Upon further questioning, Henning noted that he took no pictures at the scene and could not recall which driveway the Jeep had backed out of.

LoTiempo asked that the name of the male in Young's custody at the time be determined and provided to the defense in case they decide to interview him about what he saw or heard.

Next, Henning said he turned on his emergency lights and pulled behind the Jeep, which pulled over after a couple hundred feet and stopped.

He said he approached the driver, whom he identified in court as Serrano, who sat in beige pants and an orange hoodie, shackled, at the defense table, her dark hair up in a coarse braid, reading glasses propped on her head. Serrano smiled a couple of times at three family members in the gallery; she largely seemed dazed during the hearing.

Henning said she had trooper stickers on her windows and he asked her about them, and she replied that some members of her family were retired from law enforcement.

The reason she was pulled over -- pulling out suddenly into traffic -- would have been simply a traffic violation -- moving from lane unsafely -- until Henning suspected Serrano was impaired. He said Serrano told him she was returning from the Silver Lake area and he observed she had bloodshot, glassy eyes, slurred speach and he detected the strong odor of alcohol on her breath.

He asked her to exit the vehicle and when she did she "misjudged the depth of the ground" and got off balance, but used the door to steady herself and was able to "stagger" to the rear of the vehicle by using it to "keep from swaying back and forth" while he talked with her.

Henning testified that he activated his body camera when he approached Serrano and that footage would also show Deputy Jenna Ferrando.

LoTiempo asked the deputy if he had the body cam on the entire time during his shift. Henning replied that he always had it on his person just not always on, but that it may have been on while he was at Darien Lake.

"She seemed fidgety, uncomfortable and nervous," Henning told Friedman.

"Did you ask her if she had something to drink?" Friedman asked.

"She said she had earlier in the day, then she said she had none," Henning said.

Once Henning knew Serrano was not going to be getting back into the Jeep to drive, a half hour to 40 minutes after encountering the defendant, her Miranda rights (to have an attorney, to not answer questions, etc.) were not read, Henning testified under questioning from LoTiempo. Yet the defense attorney said one of two DVDs entered into evidence today will show that Serrano says she asserts her right to say nothing and still the deputy talks with her about a Breathalyzer test. 

LoTiempo said a "7-10-30" notice was filled out but nothing was noted about the deputy asking her about drinking.

Next up to testify was Deputy Ryan Young, who spoke about his assignment Aug. 12 -- to take two deputies to the Buffalo Airport so they could travel for training then go to 23 Opal Court in Amherst. That's where the defendant's sister Mary Brillhart lives. He was to make sure Serrano's Jeep, which was parked in the garage, stayed in the garage.

Young said he got there about 4:30 a.m. and waited three hours until Sheriff's Investigator Christopher Parker got there with a search warrant.

At about 7:25, Young, Investigator Parker and two officers from the Amherst Police Department converged at the property. Young said he approached the "man door" on the side of the garage, saw Serrano inside the garage and activated his body cam; he asked her to open the door, whereupon she opened the overhead garage door. Young said he saw that the damage to the Jeep was consistent with the damage specified in the hit-and-run report.

Parker, according to Young, asked Serrano if she knew why law enforcement was there.

"I imagine you found my (suicide) note at my house," Serrano replied.

After Serrano was arrested her Miranda rights were read to her.

Young testified that she subsequently asked him to retrieve reading glasses from the house for her and flip-flops from the Jeep, and when he got the latter, he found a bottle of clonazapam in plain view. Young drove her silently on a 40-minute ride to the Genesee County Jail. Once there, he asked her how many of the pills she had taken; "one" she said. "Not enough to overdose?" he asked. "No, that was the plan," Serrano replied.

Young told the court that he was concerned about what amount of the drug she had in her system because she was being processed into jail.

Sanchez asked if Serrano was asked questions after her Miranda rights were read.

Young testified that a few were, such as "How can I reach your sister?" "What is her (sister's) first name?" "Does she know what happened?" "Did you leave the note inside or outside your house?"

Sanchez raised issues about the "affirmative questions" Serrano had been asked while interacting with the Genesee County Sheriff's Office personnel. The DA objected and asked what "affirmative questions" were and said the questions speak for themselves and it is not for Deputy Young to classify them in a particular way because the defense asks him to. The judge sustained the objection.

Sanchez asked if Young's body cam was on the whole time that day.

"I recall that I turned the camera off when I went to use the bathroom," Young deadpanned.

The question of when the defense counsel "attaches" to Serrano was debated in this Huntley hearing. Was it at the time she retained attorney Michael Caffery for a misdemeanor DWI arraignment in Darien Town Court? Or was it after that DWI, or once the hit-and-run fatal were suspected of being connected to the arrest made by Henning when LoTiempo and Sanchez were hired?

The defense then called its sole witness, attorney Caffery, who testified he was retained for $500 and met with Serrano at the jail. After speaking with dispatch about damage to the Jeep, he thought there was more to the case than a misdemeanor DWI.

Caffery, Serrano and "a third party" -- a woman who had been a passenger in Serrano's vehicle -- subsequently met at the Tim Hortons in Derby (Erie County).

"What was said?" Friedman asked.

That prompted the defense to object because they specifically wanted to limit Caffery's testimony to the fact that he had been retained for the misdemeanor DWI and that there was property damage to the Jeep.

LoTiempo argued -- with hands on hips, then his right hand jabbing the air with the forefinger and pinkie sticking out belligerently -- that the conversation was covered by attorney-client privilege and therefore off limits for cross-examination.

Friedman rejected his assertion, saying that Caffery is a witness that he has the right to cross-examine and that the presence of a third party negates the attorney-client privilege argument.

Judge Zambito overruled the objection and called for the witness to answer the question. LoTiempo -- hanging his head toward the floor dejectedly as he sat sideways at the defense table, his fist in a knot -- reared up to renew his argument.

The heated scenario prompted the judge to call the lawyers into his chambers for a 10-minute recess.

It seemed to tax the victim's parents, who had sat throughout the proceedings with great poise along with three other adults in the front row.

The mother began to cry as she briefly exited the gallery, sobbing halfway down the aisle. She returned composed.

The issues of Caffery's attorney-client privilege and what was said at Tim Hortons were not revisited by Friedman after court resumed.

The case is next on the docket for 1:45 p.m. on March 13.

Previously:

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