Former Windsor Locks police officer Michael Koistinen was sentenced to five years and four months in prison Monday for the October 2010 accident in which he struck and killed 15-year-old Henry Dang while the teen was riding a bicycle.
As he stood up to be formally sentenced in Hartford Superior Court, Judge Joan K. Alexander asked Koistinen if he had anything to say. Koistinen looked to the Dang family in the courtroom and uttered his first public words since the accident.
“I’m extremely sorry,” Koistinen, 26, said. “I never meant for this to happen.”
Koistinen pleaded no contest to second-degree manslaughter and tampering with physical evidence on June 12. He was due to start trial June 19 and a jury had already been selected.
Alexander sentenced Koistinen to a 15-year term, suspended after five years and four months in prison, plus five years probation.
Alexander said Dang's death was a loss to the community and maybe the incident will stand as an example that will discourage others from drunk driving.
"Anytime a drunk gets behind the wheel of a car it shouldn't be surprising that the result could go this extreme," Alexander said.
Koistinen, of Suffield, was off duty when he was driving his car, struck and Dang as the teen rode his bike on Spring Street at night Oct. 29, 2010.
State police allege the accident, in which Dang was struck at the corner of Spring and West streets while he was riding his bike, occurred after Koistinen spent much of the day drinking alcoholic beverages. Koistinen was off-duty when the accident happened, around midnight, according to police reports.
State’s Attorney Gail Hardy said the incident caused people to lose faith in the judicial system and the police department, and it was particularly difficult for the town of Windsor Locks. Hardy said her office spoke with Dang's family after the jury selection and they agreed to seeking plea agreement.
“Throughout the course of this incident they weren’t seeking vengeance,” Hardy said. “They were seeking justice. What they wanted was for Michael Koistinen to be held accountable for his actions just like anyone else would.”
In a written statement read by Asst. State’s Attorney John Fahey, the Dang family said the day Henry was killed will always be with them. Henry had his whole life in front of him and of all the four kids in the family he was the best, the statement said.
“He’s supposed to be graduating from high school this year and on to college,” the family said.
The statement chastised Koistinen for his actions right after the accident, especially because he was a police officer at the time.
“Henry was laying there dying in front of you and at no time did you go and check on him,” the statement said.
Koistinen’s attorney, Raymond Hassett, spoke for his client saying he was ready to begin his sentence. Hassett said the night of the accident “was an epic confluence of disastrous circumstances” that lead to Dang’s death.
Hassett said Koistinen never intended to hurt anyone that night. He didn’t intend to hurt Henry Dang, who he’d never met. The shock of what happened that night has haunted Koistinen since that night and he will live with his guilt for the rest of his life.
Koistinen thanked the Dang family members for their graciousness and understanding during the legal process. Koistinen is remorseful and accepts his responsibility for his actions, Hassett said.
“He realizes nothing can bring closure to this accident but he hopes the Dang family can find some peace in the future,” Hassett said.
The Dang family , but in September 2011reached settlements totaling $420,000 with the Koistinens, and the former owners of the tavern that served the Michael Koistinen alcohol.
Koistinen’s father, Robert Koistinen, was a longtime sergeant with the department at the time of the accident. Robert Koistinen has been charged with interfering with the investigation and in January. He is trying to get his job back, according to officials.
Hassett said after the sentencing Robert Koistinen's trial should happen some time later this year and that Michael believes his father did nothing wrong that night.
Outside the courthouse, Rene Weigert, a Windsor Locks resident who attended the sentencing, said she thought the sentence was a slap on the wrist. She said Koistinen left Dang lying in the street after he was thrown 196 feet from the accident.
As part of his sentence, Koistinen driver’s license will be suspended for one year after he’s released from prison. He is not allowed to drink alcohol or take illegal drugs during his five-year probation.
When he resumes driving, for the first two years he must have an alcohol ignition interlock system installed on his car. He must serve 200 hours of community service, and the Dang family has requested he be willing to other people about the accident.
Because he is a former police officer, Alexander requested that the state Department of Correction separate Koistinen from the general prison population and be kept in protective custody during his term.