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Witness defends Sound Beach man accused vehicular manslaughter

Christopher Campbell, of Sound Beach, and his attorney

Christopher Campbell, of Sound Beach, and his attorney Robert A. Macedonio leave First District Court in Central Islip on April 14, 2015. Credit: James Carbone

A Mastic Beach woman testified Friday that she spent 10 hours at three bars with a friend, yet doesn’t recall him drinking before he went home, shortly before his box truck hit and killed a neighbor who was walking home.

Jessica Cheslak told jurors in Central Islip that she’s a longtime friend of Christopher Campbell, 37, of Sound Beach, who is on trial charged with vehicular manslaughter and driving while intoxicated in the Oct. 18, 2014 death of Tracy Mangino, 40.

Campbell initially was charged only with leaving the scene of a fatal accident, until prosecutors filed the other charges last year, based largely on what witnesses said they saw at the bar. There is no breath or blood test indicating he was intoxicated.

So far, none of the three witnesses who have testified about seeing Campbell at Napper Tandy’s in Miller Place have described him as intoxicated or drinking more than a beer.

“I didn’t see him drinking,” Cheslak testified during questioning by Assistant District Attorney Maggie Bopp. Outside the jury’s presence, she then asked state Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho to let her ask Cheslak about earlier statements in which she described drinking.

Camacho told Bopp she could ask, but he added that Cheslak’s earlier statements about drinking were not specifically about Campbell. In her grand jury testimony and in a statement written by a detective and signed by Cheslak, she said, “We were drinking.”

Camacho said, “Nothing in there is inconsistent with her trial testimony.”

Defense attorney George Duncan of Central Islip said Cheslak earlier described the group ordering a round of shots, but she said she didn’t know if Campbell had one. “Not once in her grand jury testimony did she say Chris was drinking,” Duncan said.

When Cheslak resumed testimony in front of the jury, she denied telling the detective, “We were drinking.”

Bopp inquired about spending all day at bars and asked skeptically, “He was barely drinking the entire time?”

“Yes,” Cheslak replied.

Prosecutors have said Campbell spent the afternoon and evening drinking before driving home. Mangino, who had been drinking at two bars that evening, was walking home from Napper Tandy’s, while barefoot and intoxicated and holding her boots.

A homeowner’s security video shows her apparently dropping something on North Country Road at 11:13 p.m. She bent over directly in front of Campbell’s truck. The front of the truck’s box hit her head, just behind the passenger door handle.

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