East Haven Police Blamed In $12 Million Verdict

, The Connecticut Law Tribune


Michael Stratton
Michael Stratton

While the caller was still speaking with the dispatcher, Trnka punched a hole in the front windshield. The dispatcher told the woman to stay in the drive-thru line so Trnka could not get away. She stayed until an East Haven police officer arrived. Meanwhile, another police officer came over from a nearby bar.

Stratton said Trnka was driving a 1997 Chevrolet construction truck but the license plate was registered to a 1989 Ford truck. Keefe said police focused on the domestic incident and not on the truck's license plates. Whether or not they actually noticed this discrepancy became a key issue later in the case.

Stratton said the vehicle should have been towed and impounded but the officers decided to drive Trnka and the woman to their respective homes to sober up. After Trnka retrieved his truck from the McDonald's, he drove to the girlfriend's house and began throwing rocks at it. Trnka later claimed he needed to retrieve his cell phone from the woman. Stratton said the woman didn't respond.

Trnka then drove at high speed back to New Haven, where he lived. On Thompson Avenue, Trnka sideswiped a car that then-18-year-old Thomas Ventura was about to enter after leaving his girlfriend's home. Ventura was thrown 20 feet before landing on his head, Stratton said.

Stratton said Ventura suffered a small brain bleed and some cognitive impairments initially but no longer has any ill effects from the brain injury. The worst of his injuries were to his leg and abdominal area. He spent one month in the hospital after the accident.

In total, Ventura needed 10 surgeries to repair his injuries, including damage to his right leg and hip. His abdominal injury cut off blood flow to his testes, which required surgery to save. Ventura is now unable to have children.

A doctor testified that Ventura's leg injury was one of the worst he had ever seen. Doctors removed three inches of leg bone and installed an external fixator, a device that helps keep the bone from falling apart while letting the undamaged portion continue to grow. Ventura had to adjust the screws on the device himself, a painful undertaking.

"He can walk, talk … but he can't participate in any kind of sports," said Stratton. "He's looking at a lot of arthritis going forward."

Stratton said that Ventura had aspirations of going to college and possibly playing lacrosse at the collegiate level. But due to the accident, Ventura never went to college. He did, however, attend a technical institute and was trained as an electrician. He now works full time as a nursery manager at a Lowe's store.

Trnka did not stay at the accident scene. Police apprehended him a day later. He was convicted of evading responsibility and third-degree assault, and sentenced to 10 years in prison, suspended after 23 months.

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