NEW BRITAIN – A Plainville woman accused of driving drunk when she ran over two other women Oct. 29, killing one of them, pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges related to the accident.
Justine Cusick, 35, was arrested Oct. 29 after police said she ran over two women in the driveway of 14 Bradley St., Plainville, where she had been invited to a house gathering.
Deborah Sheak, 59, died from injuries after being run over. The other victim, a 40-year-old woman, sustained minor injuries, police reports said.
Cusick was charged with second-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, misconduct with a motor vehicle, third-degree assault, driving under the influence, unsafe backing and second-degree reckless endangerment.
She pleaded not guilty to all the charges Tuesday during a brief appearance in the felony court at New Britain Superior Court where the case was transferred.
She previously was convicted of operating under the influence in 2003 as a double first-time offender - meaning prosecutors essentially treated two DUI arrests as one conviction in a plea bargain. She was sentenced in that case to six months in prison, suspended, and 18 months of probation.
Cusick and her boyfriend, Steven Saunders, 38, were at a convenience store on North Washington Street Oct. 29 when they met two people who invited them to a gathering at Sheak’s home, at 14 Bradley St. in Plainville. One witness said the couple spent about two hours at the home and drank beer while they were there.
Cusick then apparently got upset about not being able to find her cell phone and implied that someone at the home had taken it, police reports said. She drove away with Saunders, but came back about 15 minutes later. Sheak told multiple guests at her home that Cusick had struck her in the face. The guests with Sheak went out to the car to confront Cusick who later told police she felt intimidated and wanted to escape the “crazy situation.”
Seconds later, the 40-year-woman told police she was knocked to the ground and felt pressure to her legs. The woman then realized that Sheak was pinned underneath the SUV.
Before officers arrived, Cusick and Saunders were pulled out of their vehicle by the house guests gathered around the car. The group unsuccessfully tried to use a jack to get the vehicle off of Sheak who died several hours later after being taken to Hartford Hospital by LifeStar.
Cusick told police she never meant to strike anyone with the vehicle and that she didn’t feel anything that would indicate she had hit anyone.
She also said she had two light beers and a shot in the afternoon at an area restaurant, but that she had stopped drinking around 5 p.m.
Cusick, of 92 West Main St., failed field sobriety tests and had a blood alcohol content of 0.17, police said. The legal limit in Connecticut for a driver is 0.08.
Her case was continued to Dec. 21. She is being held on $150,000 bond. The estate of Deborah Sheak has hired an attorney, court officials said.
Staff writer Justin Muszynski contributed to this story.
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or Lbackus@centralctcommunications.com. Follow Lisa Backus on Twitter @LbackusNBH