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Driver in Walmart crash pleads not guilty

WAKEFIELD — An 18-year-old Charlestown man, seriously injured when he slammed his van into the Westerly Walmart on Jan. 15, appeared frail as he entered 4th Division District on Friday with the aid of a walker.

Thomas H. Brightman, of 12 Castle Way, who authorities say has undergone a number of emergency procedures to deal with his injuries, had a medical brace on his right leg as he stood before Judge Madeline Quirk while Westerly Police Lt. Phil Williams read the charges against him.

Brightman pleaded not guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, first offense, blood-acohol level unknown; reckless driving; and malicious damage to the Walmart building. The vehicle went through a wall and partially into the store.

Williams asked the judge for a subpoena to require Rhode Island Hospital to release Brightman’s medical records, including blood tests to determine his blood-alcohol content at the time of the crash. Williams said police attempted to follow up on the accident in the emergency room but were turned away because of the extent of the teen’s injuries.

Quirk told the slight, youthful-looking Brightman that the hospital will likely refuse to release those records without coming before the court for a hearing.

Police continue to investigate whether the crash was “intentional, accidental or mechanical.”

Williams read a description of the events leading to the crash, indicating witnesses said Brightman was driving erratically in the parking lot prior to accelerating and heading directly at the wall. Brightman was traveling, according to police reports, at about 40 mph when his van hit the wall. Brightman was pinned inside his vehicle and rescue workers had to use hydraulic extrication devices to cut him out of the tangled metal. Police said that they found an empty bottle of vodka in the vehicle and that Brightman was not wearing a seatbelt.

Meanwhile, a woman identified as Brightman’s sister, Megan E. Zarkowski, 24, also of 12 Castle Way, pleaded no contest last week to a Westerly police charge of procuring alcohol for a minor. She received a six-month suspended sentence with six months’ probation.

In 2011, Zarkowski pleaded no contest to a Westerly police charge of leaving the scene of an accident, injury resulting.

She was charged with hitting a pedestrian on Bowling Lane in Bradford in the early morning hours of May 22, 2011, and leaving the scene. She received a five-year suspended prison term, with one year to be served in home confinement, and four years of probation.

Brightman was released Friday on a promise to appear on March 7 for a pretrial conference.

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