Nicholas Comasco, 27, the Bloomfield resident behind the wheel of a speeding car that struck another car carrying Bloomfield High School junior Christina Lembo, 16, killing her, pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide on Wednesday, April 13, in Newark Superior Court before Judge Verna Leith.
Charged with second-degree vehicular homicide, Comasco negotiated a prison term for a third-degree offense. He is scheduled for sentencing June 6 and faces three years in state prison. He would need to serve 85 percent of the sentence before parole eligibility.
Acknowledging his guilt, Comasco answered “yes” to a series of questions from his attorney, Emile Lisboa, and Assistant Essex County Prosecutor, Eileen O’Connor, confirming facts about the accident, and his sole responsibility for it. He also acknowledged to Leith that he was speeding at the time of the accident, and if found guilty by a jury, he understood he would have faced 10 years in prison.
The fatal accident occurred just after 11 p.m., Sept. 29, 2012, on Broughton Avenue, at the corner of Walter Street. The male driver of the car carrying Lembo, who was a rear-seat passenger in the vehicle, had a probationary driving license. By law, he was required to have an adult in the front seat after 11 p.m., which he did not. He signaled right but instead turned left into the path of Comasco’s car, according to statements made during previous hearings on the case.
O’Connor asked Comasco if he was driving at 66 miles per hour one second before the crash, and 80 miles per hour two seconds before the crash. Under oath, Comasco said yes. He also acknowledged that he had been drinking beer before the accident.
A second count against Comasco, fourth-degree assault by auto, for injuring a passenger in the car carrying Lembo, was dismissed.
Comasco, who had his driver’s license suspended for five years by the NJ Motor Vehicle Commission because of the fatal accident, also faces another five-year driving suspension by the court. Lisboa asked Leith to have this suspension run concurrently with the MVC suspension. This will be addressed when Comasco is sentenced.
According to previous court statements, Comasco’s blood/alcohol reading was .075 about an hour after the accident. This is slightly below .08, which in New Jersey is driving while intoxicated.
Lisboa was unable, numerous times over the last several years, to prevent O’Connor from presenting, at a possible trial, the testimony of an alcohol studies expert, which Lisboa anticipated would “retroactively” calculate Comasco’s blood/alcohol level above .08 even though his client was never charged for driving while intoxicated.
But Lisboa had also said publicly that he would present his own alcohol expert who would calculate Comasco’s blood/alcohol level lower than .08.
According to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, jury selection was to have begun this past Monday, April 11.
Following the court hearing on Wednesday, April 13, Lisboa said he had asked Leith to delay the trial because it had recently come to light that a technician working at a State Police laboratory was writing fraudulent drug-testing results. Lisboa said this same laboratory was where Comasco’s blood/testing had been done.
The disclosure was made public in March by the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office. The technician had worked at the NJ State Police Laboratory, in Little Falls, from 2005 to 2015. Lisboa said he informed Leith he wanted to gather evidence and testimony to determine if Comasco’s blood/alcohol level results were valid, but Leith refused to delay the trial. As a consequence, Lisboa said he figured it was better to negotiate a plea than go to trial. He said once a jury gets it into their heads that a defendant was drinking, it is almost impossible for them to think that alcohol was not the reason for an accident.
“It’s not illegal to drink and drive,” Lisboa said. “He was never charged with driving while intoxicated. But with ‘bad character’ evidence, it’s hard to get a fair trial.”