Man gets 14 years for fatal crash while fleeing police

Joseph Guzman-Rivera was sentenced to 14 years for fatal crash.

Joseph Guzman-Rivera was sentenced to 14 years for fatal crash.

Kelly Grant /Connecticut State Police / Contributed Photo

BRIDGEPORT — A Waterbury man was sentenced Tuesday to 14 years in prison for killing a 61-year-old woman and severely injuring two pedestrians while he was fleeing police here three years ago.

“I’m sorry to the family, sorry for your loss. I’m strong, I’m going to get through this,” Joseph Guzman-Rivera said via video while slumped in a chair in the Bridgeport Correctional Center.

“This was a tragic criminal event,” Superior Court Judge Kevin Russo told him. “If only you had just stopped when you were asked to as most motorist do, you would not be here today.”

The judge said in imposing the sentence of 14 years, followed by six years of special parole, he was factoring in, as required, the results of a state study that shows the youthful criminal defendant acted impulsively.

On Aug. 10, 2017, Susan Tomczyk had just left her doctor’s office where she had gotten a clean bill of health on her new hip replacement and was headed to her Bridgeport home when Guzman-Rivera blew through the red traffic light at the intersection of Iranistan and Railroad avenues plowing into the side of a Tomczyk’s Toyota sedan and forcing her car into a cement wall, according to police.

Tomczyk was pronounced dead an hour later from multiple injuries at St. Vincent’s Medical Center.

Last January, Guzman-Rivera, 24, of Cliff Street, pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter, two counts of first-degree assault, possession of narcotics with intent to sell, cruelty to animals and interfering with police. The sentencing was delayed because of the pandemic.

Tomczyk’s sister, Michele Tomczyk, was unable to attend the court hearing Tuesday because of medical issues. But her friend and advocate, Katherine Ceccarelli, told the judge that Tomczyk has continually suffered from depression as a result of her sister’s death.

“I can never have my sister back, but I want to see justice done,” Ceccarelli read from a brief statement from Tomczyk.

“The serious nature of this offense calls out for you to impose the recommended sentence,” added Supervisory Assistant State’s Attorney C. Robert Satti Jr.

Guzman-Rivera’s mother, Shirley Rivera, was in the courtroom for the hearing and had been expected to plead for leniency for her son. Instead, turning to Ceccarelli, she apologized for her son’s actions.

“I am heartbroken, I feel so, so bad for you,” Rivera told Ceccarelli.

Guzman-Rivera’s lawyer, Public Defender Jonathan Demirjian, blamed his client’s actions on immaturity and long-time drug use.

According to Satti, shortly after 1 p.m. Aug. 10, a state police sergeant attempted to pull Guzman-Rivera’s car over on South Avenue for having dark tinted windows and an illegible rear license plate.

However, the prosecutor said, Guzman-Rivera instead sped up, driving through residential areas and a school zone at high speed.

After striking Tomczyk’s car, Satti said, Guzman-Rivera continued driving, striking two pedestrians, William Falcon, 61, and 65-year-old Zordia Mendez.

Police said Falcon was pinned under Guzman-Rivera’s car and caught in a telephone guide wire. Firefighters had to lift the car off him with a hydraulic jack resulting in the amputation of Falcon’s left ankle.

Mendez suffered a fractured left leg and bruises and abrasions on his head and ribs.

Guzman-Rivera allegedly ignored Falcon’s screams from beneath his car and instead fled, jumping fences and running through rear yards to get away, police said.

Using the state police tracking dog Nero, police said they traced Guzman-Rivera to a basement on Lewis Street.

During a struggle with the dog, police said, Guzman-Rivera began to gouge the animal’s eyes and punch Nero in the head and face. State police said they hit Guzman-Rivera three times in the chest with a baton to get him to release his grip on the dog.

During a search of Guzman-Rivera, the prosecutor said, police found nine bundles and three folds of heroin, 12 bags of crack cocaine, four bags of powder cocaine and $250 hidden in his underwear.