March 26, 2013

Detective arrested in NH hit-and-run that injured 2 teens

Lynne Tuohy / The Associated Press

BEDFORD, N.H. — A New Hampshire detective who was fired after his unmarked police vehicle was involved in a Bedford hit-and-run accident faces felony charges of leaving the scene of the accident.

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Hillsborough County Attorney Patricia LaFrance announces at a press conference Tuesday in Bedford, N.H., that a Manchester,detective sergeant in the Special Investigations Unit has been arrested.

AP

Stephen Coco, a detective sergeant who was working in the Special Investigations Unit in Manchester, turned himself in to police Tuesday - four days after two teenage boys were hit from behind and injured as they were walking along a quiet, residential street at about 9:20 p.m. Friday. The vehicle left without stopping.

Authorities wouldn't confirm whether Coco, 41, was driving. He was arraigned on two felony counts of conduct after an accident and was released on $20,000 bail.

While a standard condition of bail is to refrain from "excessive use of alcohol," on Coco's bail form the word "excessive" is crossed out and the word "any" was handwritten.

Hillsborough County Attorney Patricia LaFrance said Coco lives about a mile away from where the teens were hit. Coco was off duty at the time but was driving a police-issued, unmarked Nissan Pathfinder SUV.

Dean Drukker, 18, suffered a concussion with bleeding on the brain, a separated shoulder, and bruises and abrasions, according to the arrest warrant affidavit. Noah Hickman, 17, suffered a broken right elbow. Both teens are from Bedford. LaFrance said she has spoken to the parents of both teens and both are home recuperating.

Pamela Hickman, Noah's mother, said Tuesday that the boys were struck right in front of the Hickmans' home.

"They were just walking toward our house," she said. She said she did not want to comment on Coco's arrest.

Nancy Drukker, Dean's mother, says she's thankful God was watching over the boys. She said she and her husband still break down in tears at the thought of how close they came to losing their son.

"We can't believe he survived such a terrible hit and run," she said. "We have a deep faith in God, and he did a miracle saving my son's life."

"We are appalled and shocked that it was a police officer," Nancy Drukker said, but added, "We feel the appropriate punishment will be done no matter who he is."

The boys are close friends and seniors at Bedford High School, Nancy Drukker said. She lauded Noah's quick action dialing 911 on his cellphone to summon help for her son, who was knocked unconscious. "He's our ultimate hero."

Bedford police officers interviewed Hickman at Elliot Hospital less than two hours after the accident. According to the arrest warrant affidavit, Hickman said he and Drukker noticed the car that hit them leaving a home. Officers then went to that home's address and learned the names of five guests who visited that night, including Coco.

Two officers went to Coco's home just after 3:30 a.m. and saw fresh damage to the Pathfinder, which was parked in the driveway. That damage included a cracked bumper, dented hood and damaged headlight. A plastic lens piece recovered from the scene of the accident matched the piece missing from the headlight.

When the Bedford officers confronted Coco, he denied he had driven anywhere that night, according to the affidavit. Police impounded the vehicle and obtained a search warrant. Closer inspection revealed a fabric impression on the front bumper that matched clothing Drukker was wearing when he was struck from behind.

Coco's lawyer, Mark Howard, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

"We are investigating this as we would any incident," LaFrance said Tuesday. She added, however, that if the case against Coco goes to trial she will ask another county attorney to handle the case to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest.

Manchester Police Chief David Mara fired Coco on Monday, saying he violated several standard police procedures, without being more specific. Coco had been with the department for 17 years.

Coco appeared briefly in Merrimack District Court Tuesday and was released on $20,000 personal recognizance bond. He is scheduled to return to court April 16.

In 2004, an unleashed dog rushed at Coco and his two small daughters as they were walking in a Manchester park. Coco shot the dog to death. A county attorney declined to prosecute him, saying there was a lack of evidence of criminal threatening or reckless conduct on Coco's part. Coco said the dog jumped on and snapped at him and his children.

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