STONINGTON — All-star baseball and softball tournament spectators got a little more than they bargained for Sunday night when police from several departments descended on the Pawcatuck Little League complex on North Anguilla Road in search of a Georgia murder suspect who was spotted in the woods behind one of the playing fields.
The suspect, Robert Donell Annunziata, 33, of 1400 Worcester Triangle in McDonough, Ga., was a passenger in a car stopped for speeding between exits 92 and 91 southbound on I-95 by Connecticut State Police. The officer who made the stop, Trooper First Class Dawn Pagan, determined that a male passenger was acting suspiciously, and called Stonington Police for assistance at 5 p.m., according to Stonington Police Capt. Todd Olson.
Upon learning that Annunziata had an active warrant out for his arrest on charges of "Homicide — Willful Kill with a Gun" in Atlanta, the state police officer asked him to step out of the car, and he as he did he darted across I-95 to the center median, according to a press release from Connecticut State Police. Stonington officers engaged in a foot pursuit down the center median, Olson said, and eventually through the woods and across Anguilla Brook in the area of the ballfields on North Anguilla Road.
Groton Town Police and Ledyard Police had joined the pursuit with K9s, and a K9 unit from Connecticut State Police Troop D in Danielson, Conn. A trooper from Troop F in Westbrook, Conn., was also there.
Annunziata was first spotted by fans in the dense underbrush about 20 feet from the 8- to 10-year-old softball district tournament game on Pawcatuck's Gray Field, which borders woods and wetlands. Some thought Annunziata, who was wearing a white shirt, was looking for foul balls, but quickly noticed he seemed disheveled and appeared to be making a shelter out of branches and leaves to camouflage himself.
At about 6 p.m., several marked and unmarked police SUVs from Groton Town, Stonington and state police entered the complex and told the players and fans at a 10- to 12-year-old baseball district game on the field closest to the road to get in their cars and leave.
Players and spectators from the 10- to 12-year-old softball sectional game between Waterford and Glastonbury being played on the complex's Blue Field were also evacuated to the parking lot, although many hovered near the concession stand while police formed a protective perimeter around the wooded parts of the complex.
"The cops came rolling in, and whatever they said, parents started jumping the fence to get their kids," said one parent who was watching her son play in the baseball tournament game closest to the road. "The parents on our side heard someone's loose with a gun and we just started screaming to the boys to get to their dugout."
The parent said many of the boys from Pawcatuck and North Stonington, the two teams that were playing on the roadside field, were moved into a room above the dugout and told to sit on the floor, but were quickly reunited with their parents so they could leave the complex.
Police set up a perimeter, which Olson said was made much easier because of the department's new communications system that lets it operate seamlessly with other departments.
"Our new radio system that we really felt would be a good thing for interoperability worked flawlessly in this situation," he said. "Everybody turned to a state police channel, and we all talked using our badge numbers.
"It worked perfectly, and we were able to hear each other and we knew we had a solid perimeter."
Police set up their perimeter along the brush line behind the fields as spectators took cover away from the action, and several officers went into the woods to follow Annunziata's trail.
Stonington officer Ed Cullen, who was at home, responded to the scene and trekked into wetlands in pursuit of Annunziata. After more than an hour, loud shouts were heard in the woods, along with dogs barking, and several minutes later Annunziata was pulled from the brush in handcuffs with numerous scratches and a bleeding bite on his leg.
According to state police, Luka, a police dog from Troop D in Danielson, and her handler, Trooper First Class Kenneth Poplawski, caught up with Annunziata near the highway as he tried to retrace his steps.
Annunziata was transported via Westerly Ambulance to L+M Hospital in New London for treatment. No spectators or officers were injured. He was charged locally by state police with interfering with an officer/resisting arrest, second-degree breach of peace and being a negligent pedestrian and was held on $10,000 bond overnight for arraignment today in New London Superior Court.
"Fortunately things worked out. We got called at (5 p.m.) and he was in custody at (6:50 p.m.)," Olson said. "There were no injuries. This was a best-case scenario."
***Editor's note: This article was updated Monday morning at 9:54 with the name of the suspect and other details from Connecticut State Police.***