A Morris County detective who drove into an elderly Morristown woman, killing her last year, faces a single motor vehicle charge with a maximum fine of $500.
Kristi Allegretta, a lieutenant with the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office, struck Galina Kustanovich, an 80-year-old Russian immigrant, in a crosswalk outside the Ann Street seniors complex where Kustanovich lived with her husband in Morristown.
The victim “was pinned under the car, and died nine hours after the accident, in absolute agony. She was awake,” said Daniel Marchese, an attorney representing Kustanovich’s estate.
After investigating the June 2019 accident, which occurred less than a block from Allegretta’s office, the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office declined to press criminal charges.
“In this case we’re saying the evidence was insufficient to establish a criminal charge,” Passaic County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Jason Statuto told MorristownGreen.com earlier this month.
Allegretta appeared Thursday in Sparta Municipal Court to face a charge of failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk, a motor vehicle offense. The case was assigned to Sparta to avoid any appearance of conflict in Morristown.
If a failure to yield results in “serious bodily injury,” it carries maximum penalties of $500 in fines, 25 days in jail, and license revocation for six months, upon conviction.
Allegretta entered a not guilty plea last month. Sparta Municipal Judge Paris Eliades on Thursday adjourned the case until Feb. 13, 2020, at the request of Municipal Prosecutor Jonathan McMeen, who needed time to review evidence he received recently.
‘IT’S ABSOLUTELY APPROPRIATE’
Marchese told the judge he was concerned the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office had not informed him and the Kustanovich family of the municipal proceedings. Passaic County’s victim witness coordinator did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
The family’s attorney also was perturbed that Allegretta’s lawyer, Denis Driscoll, had suggested his appearance at the hearing was “inappropriate.”
“It’s absolutely appropriate at all times for me to be there,” Marchese said afterward. Morris County has been notified that the estate plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit, said the Newton lawyer, who is of-counsel to the Morristown firm of Kaplan, Williams, Graffeo and Stern.
Allegretta’s job status could not be determined. When asked if she was suspended, the Passaic Prosecutor’s Office told Morristown Green it was an administrative matter for the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office.
A spokesperson for Morris Prosecutor Fredric Knapp on Thursday referred the question to the state Division of Criminal Justice. A Division spokesperson did not immediately respond on Thursday afternoon; this story will be updated when a response is received.
Kustanovich and her husband Vladimir emigrated from Russia about 25 years ago, and their daughter and son live in this country, Marchese said.
‘BURDEN OF PROOF’
The victim was heading towards home when she was struck in the crosswalk, according to a neighbor who saw the accident unfold around 2 pm on a Friday.
Ending her shift, Allegretta exited a parking garage on Schuyler Place in her Morris County vehicle and turned left into the crosswalk.
“Our investigation did not prove she was on the phone,” Statuto, Passaic’s chief assistant prosecutor, told Morristown Green.
“We can’t say definitively that she wasn’t. But in a criminal case, the burden of proof is on us to prove it. There was no evidence to prove she was talking or texting” at the time of the accident.
Statuto said he could not discuss specifics of the investigation. Generally, authorities look for evidence of excessive speed, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or distracted driving in such cases.
Passaic County handled the investigation to avoid potential conflicts, Statuto said. Morristown police, the Morris County Sheriff’s Office and the Morris Prosecutor’s office cooperated in the probe, which concluded around Thanksgiving, he said.
Allegretta joined the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office in 2004, rising to Detective Supervisor in 2014 and Detective Sergeant in 2016. She was commended that year for aggressively investigating sexual assaults on a minor, and promoted in 2017 to Lieutenant, supervising the Domestic Violence-, Juvenile-, Missing Persons- and Weapons Return units.
Four detectives were promoted with Allegretta. Morris Prosecutor Knapp described them all at the time as “exemplary law enforcement officers (who) are also tremendously caring individuals who serve this office and the community with honor and distinction.”
The fatality occurred as Morristown was in the midst of a public awareness campaign urging motorists to use caution at crosswalks.