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Evidence destroyed in Stamford woman's drunk-driving case

The Hearst Corporation, Darien News,
BYLINE: John Nickerson

Stamford, CT

STAMFORD -- A judge has been asked to drop felony charges against a city woman who allegedly killed two men while driving drunk on Interstate 95 in Darien in 2010 because state police mistakenly incinerated evidence in the case.

Facing felony charges of leaving the scene of an accident and driving while intoxicated, Candace Blanks, of Bedford Street, appeared Monday afternoon with her lawyer, Darnell Crosland, for the first part of a hearing in which Crosland hopes to convince Judge Bruce Hudock that Blanks will be unable to prove her innocence without the destroyed evidence.

Blanks, 42, is accused of driving drunk and leaving the scene of an accident after hitting Felipe Chagas, 19, and Lucas Silva, 21, with her black Lincoln Navigator as they were changing a tire on the shoulder of southbound I-95 in Darien at about 2:26 a.m. on Oct. 16, 2010.

Crosland told Hudock that evidence that might have cleared Blanks may have been lost as a result of the intentional destruction of evidence by state police.

"Exculpatory evidence may have been destroyed with the other evidence," Crosland said, just before the state police's evidence manager took the stand. "The evidence in this case was negligently and intentionally destroyed."

State police Evidence Manager David Nichols testified Monday he believed the case had been disposed of when he ordered biological evidence to be incinerated. He released the woman's vehicle to her insurance company, which later had it crushed, he said.

Without being able to analyze the evidence, Crosland said, it may be impossible to determine what could have been used to help prove Blanks' innocence. Manslaughter charges were never filed against Blanks because accident scene investigators could not determine with any certainty if she struck Chagas and Silver when they were on the shoulder or on the roadway.

Blanks failed field sobriety tests after the accident, but she refused to take an alcohol breath test at the state police barracks in Bridgeport. She was released after posting $250,000 bond.

Silva was dragged about 170 feet down the highway and Chagas was found underneath his friend's car. Both were declared dead at the scene.

According to her arrest affidavit, troopers said Blanks appeared drunk and went through mood swings at the State Police barracks in Bridgeport as she was being arrested. At times she laughed at her situation; other times she cried. She swayed back and forth as police took her fingerprints, then she told officers she needed to speak with her dog and demanded to leave a phone message for the pet, court documents show.

Nichols, a 24-year veteran of the state police who became an evidence manager for the department in 2009, said he sent plastic and glass, as well as blood samples taken from the scene to be destroyed in March of this year.

"It was an oversight by me. It was a mistake," he said. Three days after the evidence was destroyed, he realized his mistake after receiving an emailed request from a state police detective asking that the blood samples and other biological evidence from the case be sent to the state forensic laboratory for analysis.

Nine days after the accident, a similar request sent by another state police detective asking that the biological evidence be sent to the state forensic laboratory, was never acted upon, Nichols said.

But videotaped evidence and reports of the accident not held in the state police evidence locker still exist and are being held by other state authorities, Nichols said.

At the end of the 70-minute hearing, Hudock scheduled the parties to return to court Sept. 25, when Crosland will be able to present his argument that Blanks' defense has been prejudiced by the destruction of the evidence.

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