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Lawyers debate Sound Beach man’s intoxication in fatal crash

Christopher Campbell, 35, of Sound Beach, leaves First

Christopher Campbell, 35, of Sound Beach, leaves First District Court in Central Islip Tuesday morning, April 14, 2015, after being charged in the October 2014, hit-and-run death of Tracy Mangino, of Miller Place. Credit: James Carbone

The Sound Beach contractor who hit and killed a neighbor walking on their street while driving had one of two faces, according to the pictures painted of him by attorneys who gave closing arguments Tuesday to a jury in the man’s vehicular manslaughter trial.

To Suffolk prosecutors, Christopher Campbell, 37, was a quick-witted manipulator who managed to orchestrate a conspiracy of silence about his night of drinking before his box truck hit Tracy Mangino, 40, on Oct. 18, 2014.

To his own lawyer, Campbell is the victim of an overzealous prosecution that has relied on innuendo and speculation in an attempt to inflate a mere accident into crimes.

After state Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho instructs jurors on the law Wednesday morning, they will begin deciding which depiction is the right one.

What’s undisputed is that Mangino was drunk when she was walking home from the bar Napper Tandy’s in Miller Place and that several drivers called police to report her walking unsteadily in the road. Also undisputed is that a home security video shows her suddenly bending down into the road to pick something up just as Campbell’s truck approached.

But defense attorney William Keahon of Hauppauge told jurors the evidence was thin and there was no sign Campbell knew he’d hit anyone that night on the dark road. Campbell’s truck full of equipment was large and loud as it bumped along North Country Road, making it unlikely he’d have heard the impact with Mangino below and behind the truck’s cab, Keahon said.

“They want you to make assumptions, and they want you to speculate” about Campbell’s condition and state of mind, Keahon said.

The only evidence of intoxication came from Campbell’s former girlfriend Christine Evko, who testified he was “giddy” and joking when he arrived home that night. Keahon said others who testified didn’t report excessive drinking, and said he drove perfectly that night. Evko said nothing about slurred speech, smelling of alcohol or stumbling, Keahon said.

“Imagine if the police had pulled him over that night, with his perfect driving,” Keahon said. “All the officer sees is laughing and joking. That would be a bizarre arrest for driving while intoxicated, I think we would all agree.”

But Assistant District Attorney Maggie Bopp urged jurors to reach a darker conclusion from what they heard about Campbell’s evening at Napper Tandy’s and other bars with friends.

“It’s a bar,” she said. “They’re there to drink.”

Evko knew right away Campbell was drunk when he got home, Bopp said. And when Campbell took the unusual step of locking the door and turning out the lights, Bopp said it wasn’t to avoid a confrontation between Evko and Jessica Cheslak, another woman he was with that night, but to avoid the police if they came.

Bopp also belittled his shocked reaction when detectives told him his truck had probably hit Mangino.

“What are you shocked about?” Bopp exclaimed to jurors, as if berating Campbell. “You know you hit her!”

After Bopp finished, defense attorney George Duncan of Central Islip asked for a mistrial, arguing that Bopp improperly mischaracterized Cheslak’s testimony. Cheslak testified Campbell barely drank and denied telling a detective that “we were drinking.”

Camacho denied the mistrial motion, but said he may instruct jurors that Bopp wrongly described what Cheslak said.

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