Woman sues speeding driver over sister’s untimely death
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
Feb. 11, 2008
NORTH BRANFORD — Nearly nine months after her only sister died in a car accident, Sandy Bumpus is still angry.
She stands at the bottom of the driveway where her sister, Joyce, was killed while backing onto Sea Hill Road, and yells at people to slow down.
“I am notorious at the moment in that neighborhood,” she said.
But Bumpus is not only upset over her sister’s death.
She feels that the criminal justice system has failed to impose any consequences on the driver, whom police determined was speeding on the 25 mph road when she hit Joyce Bumpus coming out of her driveway.
Sandy Bumpus said she was “devastated” when she learned late last year that judges had decided not to sign a warrant for negligent homicide with a motor vehicle submitted by the North Branford Police Department. Instead of arresting the driver, the department in December issued a speeding ticket for $156.
Now, Bumpus is suing the 17-year-old driver, Lauren Tropiano, and her mother, Deborah Tropiano, the car’s owner.
Messages left for comment at a residential phone listing for Deborah Tropiano were not returned. The Tropianos’ attorney, Cynthia Garraty, declined to comment.
Joyce Bumpus, who was 51 at the time of her death, was a social worker who had a private practice in her home and worked at the Connecticut Mental Health Center in New Haven. In addition to her sister, she was survived by a brother and three nephews.
Bruce Jacobs, a New Haven attorney representing Bumpus, said the wrongful death civil suit is in the “very early stages.” The suit does not specify a dollar amount, other than “not less than” $15,000.
“Our main concern is not necessarily what any individual did here, but that the system really has failed the victim,” Jacobs said.
On May 31, 2007, Joyce Bumpus was leaving her home at 253 Sea Hill Road when her car was hit from behind by an SUV driven by Lauren Tropiano.
After striking Bumpus’ car, Tropiano’s SUV continued forward until it snapped off a telephone pole. An investigation conducted by North Branford and state police determined that Tropiano’s car was traveling at least 42 mph when it hit the telephone pole after its initial collision with Bumpus’ car. Bumpus was moving at less than 5 mph, according to police records.
The police investigation determined that the “contributing factors” in the accident were speed and some line-of-sight issues, which included a curve in the road and bushes in a nearby driveway. According to the police report, Tropiano told officers the day of the accident that she hadn’t seen Bumpus’ car and couldn’t avoid hitting it.
North Branford police concluded there was probable cause for an arrest warrant, according to their records, and on Oct. 31, 2007, submitted a warrant for negligent homicide with a motor vehicle and reckless driving. Detectives said that two judges decided not to sign the warrant because of the line-of-sight questions, the cops said. Jacobs, Sandy Bumpus’ attorney, said a prosecutor told him that one of the problems was that there were no witnesses to say how fast Joyce Bumpus was pulling out of her driveway.
Supervisory Assistant State’s Attorney David Strollo said that he cannot comment on the case.
Without the warrant, North Branford police wrote out a $156 speeding ticket for Tropiano, using 42 mph as the speed she was traveling.
Jacobs called the work of North Branford and state police “very thorough,” but added that there are some areas he thinks were lacking. One of those is that the police, according to records, did not try to determine how fast Tropiano was driving before the accident.
North Branford Deputy Police Chief Michael Doody said the formula police used to determine a minimum speed in an accident requires a fixed object, like a telephone pole, to assess the collision.
Jacobs said he also thinks police should have looked into whether Tropiano was on her cell phone at the time of the accident.
According to a police report, Tropiano had been in a single-car accident about five weeks earlier that involved a cell phone. In that incident, her 2001 Volvo veered off Totoket Road and struck a tree. Tropiano told officers, who issued her a warning, that her cell phone rang and she looked to see who was calling, causing her to drive off the road.
Sandy Bumpus said she often sees people driving more than 60 mph on Sea Hill Road.
“You could sit there from 6:30 until 9 o’clock (a.m.) and you could watch people drive Sea Hill Road like it’s Route 80,” she said.