Trio pleads not guilty to conspiracy charges in fatal hit-and-run

SALEM — Near midnight on a January night six years ago, two people were fatally struck by a car as they tried to cross a busy stretch of Route 1 on the North Shore. Authorities say the driver, Michael Tranchita Jr., never stopped.

On Monday, Tranchita, 33, of Winchester, appeared in court for the first time in connection with the hit-and-run, pleading not guilty to charges of leaving the scene of a death. Along with his father and a third defendant, Tranchita was also charged with conspiring to thwart the investigation into the Saugus crash, which killed Tina Tello, 33, a mother of two, and Christopher Zullo, 28.

Tello’s son, Michael Cowels, watched the arraignment from the courtroom, where he saw the suspects for the first time. After the hearing, he said he was pleased that “justice was finally being done,” after years of delay.


“I hope their consciences are eating them alive,” he said. “They’ve been misleading every­one to stall the case.”

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Cowels, 18, described his mother as a “soul of strength” who has been deeply missed.

A grand jury handed down an indictment against the three in late December. Prosecutors declined to say why charges were filed so long after the crash, but say the three defendants were actively thwarting the investigation.

Court records did not provide details about the allegations or the circumstances of the crash.

All three defendants pleaded not guilty Monday. Tranchita is charged with leaving the scene of a death, conspiracy, and two counts of misleading a potential witness. His father, Michael Tranchita Sr., 55, is charged with conspiracy, misleading a potential witness, and misleading an investigator.


Lisa Cutting, 39, of Revere is charged with conspiracy, misleading an investigator, and ­being an accessory after the fact.

The three defendants ­declined to comment after the hearing. A lawyer for the younger Tranchita also ­declined to discuss the charges.

In the days after the crash, investigators appealed for the public’s help in finding a GMC truck with a cracked windshield and severe damage to its front end.

According to news reports about the hit and run, Tello and Zullo were a couple and were living at a motel on Route 1. Relatives told reporters the pair might have been trying to reach a coffee shop or drugstore on the other side of the highway. They did not cross at a crosswalk.

Tello was about to move into an apartment in Somerville; it would have been her first permanent home in years.


The three defendants, who appeared in court on a summons, were released on personal recognizance. They are due back in court in April.

A review of the younger Tranchita’s driving record shows dozens of driving infractions, including more than a half-dozen stops for speeding.

The elder Tranchita ran unsuccessfully for Middlesex County sheriff in 2010, receiving more than 111,000 votes.

Peter Schworm can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @globepete.