State Rep. Cleared in Mysterious Death

A state representative has been cleared in the mysterious death of a DMV employee who was found frozen to death over the winter. He has also been reinstated as as deputy speaker in the House Democratic Caucus.

New Britain State’s Attorney Scott Murphy determined there was not enough evidence in the unusual case to charge State Rep. James O’Rourke with criminally negligent homicide in connection with the death of Carol Sinisgalli, 41.

The strange circumstances began on the night of Jan. 21, 2009.

Sinisgalli went to Digger McDuff’s, a Cromwell bar, between 10:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. and ordered a beer but left without drinking it, according to New Britain State’s Attorney Scott Murphy.

Twenty minutes later, she returned, assaulted a wheelchair-bound individual, struck another customer, ripped her own coat and threw it in the trash, according to state attorney’s decision.

Outside, she went up to a vehicle in the parking lot and demanded a man she did not know give her back her coat.

Eventually, Sinisgalli was asked to leave the bar and the Cromwell cops were called at 11:34 p.m. to remove her from the premises. Sinisgalli had left behind her shoes, purse, cell phone and a zippered jacket hood.

This is where Rep. O'Rourke's apparent unfortunate timing comes in.  He arrived at the bar at 11 p.m. after attending a University of Connecticut basketball game in Hartford. He knew Sinisgalli from a mutual friend and said hello, according to documents.

No one at the bar wanted to press criminal charges against Sinisgalli and Cromwell police closed their case.

He saw the disturbance between Sinisgalli and the wheelchair-bound patron, got up to go and was told to leave through the back because Sinisgalli was out front and was not allowed back in the bar.

She ran to O’Rourke’s car, opened the rear door, got into the back seat and said she needed a ride to her home in Rocky Hill.

He told police he was concerned about her operating a motor vehicle after having too much to drink and he agreed to drive her home, but she refused to speak to him and tell him where she lives.

He called their mutual acquaintance and learned that she lived on the other side of Rocky Hill, according to the state’s attorney’s office. It seems he made a couple calls to that person, one of which was recorded on the acquaintance’s answering machine: “Alright, stop it. You want to get out, get out that side. Alright then stop (expletive) with (expletive) back there.”

During the ride, Sinisgalli opened the back door as the vehicle was moving, so O'Rourke stopped the vehicle and struggled to close the door, O’Rourke told officials.  He continued driving, and dropped her off in a mixed residential-industrial area near where he believed she lived, after she lunged between the seats, pulled on the rearview mirror and the heating vents and knocked his glasses off.

O’Rourke then drove home to Cromwell alone.

Instead of going home, Sinisgalli took a meandering route in 14-degree weather. Her path led her into an industrial area, through a field, across railroad tracks, over a 6-foot tall retaining wall, under a fence and back onto the railroad tracks.

That is where a cross-country skier found her at 4:45 p.m. on Jan, 22, 2009 and called police. She died of hypothermia, and had a blood alcohol level of .08 percent.  There was also cocaine and an anti-depressant medication, Fluoxetine, in her system.

On Jan. 23, O’Rourke, through his attorney, contacted Rocky Hill police, to report that he had given a ride to a woman from Digger McDuff’s to the area of Dividend Road. He turned over his cell phone records for Jan. 21, and permitted the police to inspect and photograph his vehicle.

The police investigation led to dead ends.

Nothing came of a security camera on Laurel Street at 12:28 a.m., on Jan. 22, showing what might have been brake lights backing up. Police could not determine the source of the lights and O’Rourke denied being on Laurel Street that night.

Nothing came of a second set of footprints at the end of Laurel Street, near where Sinisgalli’s footprints began. Police could not cast them.

In the end, Murphy determined that there was not enough evidence to charge O’Rourke.

“As previously mentioned, Mr. O’Rourke gave to the police his version of the night’s events. While one can discount what Mr. O’Rourke told the police, it is not permissible to conclude that the opposite of what he said is true, absent independent evidence,” Murphy wrote.

O’Rourke did not owe Sinisgalli a legal obligation to protect her from hurting herself, so he could not be charged with criminal negligence, Murphy said.

“Given the particular facts of this case, including that Mr. O’Rourke and Ms. Sinisgalli were at most casual acquaintances, that Ms. Sinisgalli voluntarily entered and exited the vehicle, that there was no monetary consideration involved and that Mr. O’Rourke had not supplied the intoxicants or was present with Ms. Sinisgalli when she consumed them, he did not assume a duty to protect Ms. Sinisgalli by agreeing to drive her home.”

The arrest warrant affidavit alleged that O’Rourke acted with criminal negligence by failing to call the Rocky Hill police after Sinisgalli left the vehicle, but O’Rourke claimed that he did not call the police because he believed that she was near her home and knew where she was going.

Another element necessary to prosecute a person for criminally negligent homicide is that the defendant’s criminal negligence was the proximate cause of the death of another person.

“The known actions of Mr. O’Rourke do not establish that he was the proximate cause of Ms. Sinisgalli’s death,” Murphy said.

Murphy also said the state would have had to prove that Sinisgalli’s death would not have occurred but for the criminally negligent acts of O’Rourke and he determined that even if they had been contacted by O’Rourke, would have been able to locate her. 

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