November 12. 2013 10:37PM

Judge throws out plea deal for former Manchester police sergeant

New Hampshire Union Leader

MANCHESTER — A Superior Court judge on Tuesday rejected a plea-bargain for fired Manchester police Sgt. Stephen Coco for the March hit-and-run accident involving two Bedford teenagers.

Judge Gillian Abramson said neither of the sentences offered by prosecutor Marc Hathaway nor defense attorney Mark Howard was appropriate. Hathaway had sought a year's sentence in the county jail for Coco without any chance of work release or home confinement; Howard wanted six months.

Abramson scheduled a trial for March in the case, which at this point involves misdemeanor charges of vehicular assault.

The March 22 accident hospitalized Noah Hickman, 17, and Dean Drukker, 18, who have since recovered from their physical injuries.

With the plea deal thrown out, Hathaway could seek an indictment on the original felony charges, the trial could go forward on the misdemeanor charges or another plea bargain could be reached.

"I'm going to reflect on what has taken place, review it, think about it, consult with Mr. Drukker, Mr. Hickman and the victims' families and proceed after going through a deliberative process," Hathaway said after the hearing.

A Manchester police officer for 17 years, Coco was fired within days of the accident. Eventually, Bedford police charged him with felony conduct after an accident, the legal terminology for hit-and-run.

In September, Hathaway filed papers in Hillsborough County Superior Court North that said he would move forward with misdemeanor charges of vehicular assault.

During Tuesday's hearing, Hathaway said a plea bargain called for Coco to spend at least six months but no more than a year in the local house of correction. A key part of the plea bargain locked in language that would have prohibited Coco from serving the sentence in home confinement, work release or community service.

Earlier this year, former Manchester police officer David Connare was recommended for work release after his conviction for assault-related charges in connection with a high-speed traffic accident. And last year, retired police Capt. Michael Tessier was eligible for home confinement after pleading guilty to felony theft.

"I wanted the time the individual (Coco) was to be sentenced for actually spent in jail," said Hathaway, the county attorney in Sullivan County. Hathaway was called in to prosecute the case to avoid any perceived conflicts with the Hillsborough County Attorney's Office.

During Tuesday's hearing, Howard laid out Coco's explanation of what happened. Coco had drunk a glass of wine about three hours before the accident. His lawyer said Coco was reaching for his cell phone when he ran up on a snowbank and did not realize he hit anyone, according to John Hickman, who attended the hearing.Coco stopped when he was about to hit the Hickman mailbox. He turned onto the street, stopped at the stop sign and then proceeded home, his lawyer told the judge.

His lawyer also disputed the notion that Coco lied to Bedford police when he stated he had not gone out that night. Coco meant he came home from work and didn't go out for the entire night, recounted John Hickman, the father of Noah Hickman.

Efforts to reach Howard Tuesday were unsuccessful.

The fathers of the two victims said they'd like to see Coco indicted.

"I'd like to see him charged with what the Bedford Police charged him with — conduct after an accident," Hickman said.

Roy Drukker said he realizes that an indictment might mean a trial, but he'd like to see the case go to trial and for the evidence to come out.

Drukker expressed frustration that Coco's union has taken his termination to arbitration. And Coco's automobile insurance company refused to pay his son's expenses and medical bills, claiming Coco should not have been driving the undercover Manchester police SUV at the time of the accident.

Drukker said he has had to rely on his company health care or his own auto insurance to pay his son's hospital and medical bills.

"I just think Mr. Coco is wiggling out of everything," Drukker said.