STAMFORD – A state Superior Court judge Tuesday deemed Michael Talbot a flight risk and increased his bond from $1 million to $1.75 million in the December hit-and-run killings of two pedestrians.
The courtroom was packed with the friends and relatives of Giovani Vega Benis and Yuliana Arias Lozano, 25-year-olds from Stamford who worked together at a downtown restaurant blocks from where they were struck on Washington Boulevard.
Mauricio Arias Matamoros, who came from Colombia for the arraignment of the man suspected in his daughter’s death, was expressionless as he watched Talbot, 24, enter the courtroom in a white sweater, head down, hands cuffed behind his back, surrounded by state marshals.
Arias Matamoros stared hard at Talbot. A look of pain crossed his face but he quickly regained composure during the brief arraignment before Judge Kevin Randolph on the charges against Talbot – two counts of 2nd-degree manslaughter, two counts of 2nd-degree manslaughter with a motor vehicle, two counts of felony evading responsibility, operating under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and reckless operation of a motor vehicle.
A prosecutor asked Randolph to keep Talbot’s bond at $1 million, saying he was extradited from Florida and did not return to Connecticut himself when Stamford police issued a warrant for his arrest on Jan. 5.
Talbot was driving 86 mph when he allegedly struck Vega Benis and Arias Lozano on Dec. 3, his blood alcohol level was double the legal limit, and marijuana intoxication is suspected, the prosecutor said. Talbot has a prior arrest for breach of peace and two arrests for evading responsibility with a motor vehicle – one in 2014 and another in 2018, the prosecutor said.
Talbot’s attorney made his case to the judge, saying Talbot was not evading authorities when he went to Florida to visit his mother while a possible arrest was pending. He was in touch with Talbot while he was in Florida, the lawyer said, and Talbot intended to return to Connecticut to face the charges.
The lawyer said Talbot is not a flight risk because he is a lifelong Connecticut resident with a fiance, a 3-year-old son, and a Stamford business he started last year with a partner.
But Randolph, who said he’d read Talbot’s court file, wasn’t having it, and added $750,000 to Talbot’s bond.
The arrest warrant affidavit is damning.
It begins with a call around 2 a.m. on Dec. 3 about a car striking two pedestrians at Washington Boulevard and Main Street and taking off . An officer arrived and learned from witnesses that the driver, wearing a dark puffy jacket, abandoned the 2022 Mercedes-Benz on Washington Boulevard, not far from the crash site, and ran. The car windshield was shattered.
The officer found Talbot hiding in between a fence and garage wall in the backyard of 15 Relay Place, according to the affidavit. The officer smelled alcohol on his breath and saw that his hands were covered in blood, it states.
The officer found a Mercedes-Benz key fob in Talbot’s pants pocket, according to the affidavit. As the officer handcuffed Talbot, he started to cry, saying, “Please tell me I didn’t kill anyone tonight,” it states. Talbot was taken by ambulance to Stamford Hospital, where he was treated for a cut on his hand and other minor injuries.
At the hospital, a drug recognition expert evaluated Talbot, who said he had been drinking at multiple bars and smoked marijuana, the affidavit states. Towards the end of the evaluation Talbot said, “I could have swore I hit something or somebody like tonight,” it states. He asked about his car, saying, “Is it still insured if you’re drinking and driving?” and said he left it in the middle of the road because “it was not starting back up.”
The affidavit states that during the exam Talbot talked about being a recovering drug addict, saying, “I’m an addict myself so I shouldn’t be drinking and this is what happens when I drink. I take it to the next level more than the average Joe. I think I can get behind the wheel, you know what I mean, and I’m invincible.”
According to the affidavit, officers found on the front passenger-side floorboard one Jose Cuervo Especial nip bottle, empty; an empty clear tube labeled Kushie-Orange Bang: two Methylprednisolone 24-tablet sleeves, one containing 12 pills and the other containing five pills; and on the front passenger-side door, one Jose Cuervo Especial nip bottle and one Fireball nip, both empty.
The southbound Mercedes was traveling so fast that the victims were propelled 175 feet into the northbound lanes. “It was also determined that the operator of the vehicle did not apply his brakes at any point as there were no skid marks observed in the roadway,” the affidavit reads.
The crash was captured on city traffic cameras. Video shows that the victims, in the crosswalk, saw the Mercedes, which ran a red light, a split second before it hit them, the affidavit states. Another camera captured video of a man in a dark puffer jacket stumbling as he ran from the abandoned Mercedes, it states.
Before the arraignment, Stamford Mayor Caroline Simmons held a city hall press conference at which she reiterated her administration’s efforts to improve pedestrian safety. The city is planning a road safety audit; testing safety measures at 20 dangerous intersections; stepping up enforcement; working with the Connecticut Department of Transportation on policies to improve safety on Washington Boulevard and other state roads; coordinating with the Stamford delegation to the Legislature on laws that could improve safety; and seeking state and federal grants for road improvements, Simmons said.
Alex Martinez, the attorney for Arias Lozano’s family, said her father and a cousin arrived in the U.S. from Colombia at 4:30 a.m. Tuesday to attend the arraignment.
After the press conference, with Martinez translating, Arias Matamoros said his daughter was “very alive,” a happy young woman who loved music and travel.
She arrived in Stamford last May, her father said. “She came because our family in Colombia is poor, and she wanted to help our family move forward economically,” he said.
In Stamford, “she was studying English” and sending money to her younger brother, Nicolas, 19, “for his studies in Colombia.”
It was not easy for his daughter to come to the United States alone, Arias Matamoros said, and she was “very much thankful for the Latino community in Stamford that opened up their arms to her, not just Colombians but people from Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Mexico” and other countries.
“We thank God for all of it,” her father said.
Vega Benis, known to his family as Gio, was an easy-going, friendly guy who loved to get people laughing with his nonsensical jokes, his cousin, Ruth Sanchez, has said. Born in New York City to Mexican immigrants, he was raised in Stamford. He has two young sons.
His friends and family members pushed for justice, concerned that Talbot was not arrested immediately, given that police appeared to have ample evidence.
Sanchez, said Tuesday the family is grateful for the hard work of Stamford police.
“We were upset that there was no arrest at first. If you think about the reasons police gave, it makes sense, but emotions were against us,” Sanchez said. “We are thankful to the police department, and the judge for raising the bail, and very thankful to all the Stamford community for all the support they have given us.”
Seeing the suspect in court “was very tough” for the family, Sanchez said, but “we are happy we are getting justice. We know this is the first step, but we are happy.”
Talbot’s next court date is March 15.