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Honeymooning groom in fair condition; other driver faces 5 felonies in fatal Rollinsford crash

Union Leader Correspondent

July 22. 2013 8:48PM
Leah and Brian Preiss 

DOVER – As a widower continues to recover in a Boston hospital, a Somersworth man faces five felonies connected to a fatal crash in Rollinsford Saturday.

During an arraignment at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital Monday around 12:30 p.m., Matthew Tsopas, 43, of 24 Blackwater Road, Somersworth, entered no plea to two counts of negligent homicide, aggravated driving while intoxicated, and two counts of conduct after an accident.

Judge Stephen Morrison set bail at $250,000 cash and set the date for a probable cause hearing, scheduled for July 31 at 10 a.m. in Dover District Court.

Police believe an Infiniti G35 driven by Tsopas struck a Kia Spectra driven by a honeymooning Minnesota couple, along Route 4 before 4:30 p.m. Saturday.

As a result, Leah Fonda Preiss died of her injuries, and her husband, Brian Preiss, was transported to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, Mass.

The couple had been married for nine days.

As of Monday morning, Brian Preiss was listed in fair condition, according to hospital spokeswoman Kory Zhao.

Tsopas, who was no longer a patient at Wentworth Douglass and not being held at the Strafford County Jail, was turned over to the custody of Strafford County Sheriff's Department, according to New Hampshire State Police Lt. Nicole Armaganian.

She said investigators continue to look into Saturday's crash, but she was unable to provide a timeline in the case.

"The troopers take as long as they need to conduct a thorough investigation," Armaganian said.

Police, who believe speed and alcohol were factors in the crash, previously said they are looking into whether Tsopas allegedly crashed into several vehicles at the American Legion Post in Rollinsford. While Rollinsford police responded to the incident, they turned the matter over to State Police.

Armaganian would not comment on specific details of the investigation.

"The troopers are investigating every aspect of this case, including where Mr. Tsopas was prior to this crash," Armaganian said.

On Saturday, firefighters from Rollinsford and Dover responded to the scene of the crash and assisted crews from American Medical Response. State Police and officers from Dover, Rollinsford and South Berwick, Maine were also on-hand.

Members of the N.H. Bureau of Liquor Enforcement responded to help investigate the crash scene Saturday.

Previous story follows:

An alleged drunken driver crashed into the car of a honeymooning Minnesota couple as they drove along Route 4 in Rollinsford Saturday afternoon, killing the bride and seriously injuring her husband of nine days.

Leah Fonda Preiss died of injuries suffered in the crash; her husband Brian Preiss is reported in stable condition after being transferred to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston with head, wrist and internal injuries.

Relatives describe the union of the couple as a "great pairing of personalities."

The two met a decade ago while working at an amusement park inside the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn.

They did not become romantically involved until the past year.

"One of the obstacles was just the shyness between them," Brian's uncle, Charles Czech of St. Joseph Minn., said. "She was a very gentle person, very sweet and had a great sense of humor; Brian was kind of the same way, he is very shy, extremely intelligent, but very gentle."The accident happened Saturday shortly before 4:30 p.m. Police said the couple's Kia Spectra was hit "in a near head-on fashion" by an Infiniti G35 driven by Matthew Tsopas, 43, of Somersworth.

Leah Preiss died shortly after arrival at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover. Brian Preiss was transferred to Massachusetts General Hospital.

Tsopas fled the scene, police said, but was tracked down in Dover and taken to Wentworth-Douglass, where he was arrested and charged with negligent homicide, felony driving under the influence of alcohol and felony conduct after an accident.

Police said speed and driver impairment were contributing factors in the crash.

Initial notification to family members in Minnesota was made by a New Hampshire state trooper who called Brian's parents after getting telephone numbers from his cell phone as the couple was undergoing treatment.

"My sister and her husband were out to dinner yesterday in the Minneapolis area and got a call that this had happened," said Czech, who described the family as being in stunned disbelief at the news.

"A week ago they were the model bride and groom and now one is in the hospital and one is dead," he said. "How can you process that; to think that it could change so quickly."

Czech recalled the first time he met his nephew's bride-to-be, at a Christmas season gathering of the large Preiss clan.

"She had a great smile and she was very articulate," he said. "I remember her making me smile at some of her jokes, but she was not pushy in any way; she was just a sweetheart."

The wedding and reception were described by Czech as mirroring the gentle nature of the bride and groom.

"It was probably the funniest wedding I've been to because it was so relaxed and so personal," Czech said. "Brian and Leah just created this great environment for people."

Czech said his nephew enjoyed long motor trips; as a theme park enthusiast he would often drive hundreds of miles with amusement parks on the itinerary.

"When they planned their honeymoon, obviously it was going to be a road trip and they picked Boston," Czech said. "He mentioned to me that on their way out to New England, they were going to stop at a theme park in Ohio, which is kind of a Mecca for theme park enthusiasts."

Fellow employees say the couple was respected by their mall colleagues."They both started in 2001," said Dan Jasper, a vice president at Mall of America. "They were full-time employees, well-liked and took their positions seriously."Jasper said fellow employees have taken the news hard at Nickelodeon Universe, a 77-attraction theme park located entirely inside the mall.

"Everyone is in shock," he said.

- Bill Smith, New Hampshire Union Leader

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