Student killed by cruiser had been drinking, Cape DA says
Officer, 34, ID’d as driver in fatal Chatham crash
A 22-year-old college student who was run over by a police officer while lying on a dark road in Chatham early Thursday was “seriously impaired by drugs and alcohol,” Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe said Friday.
Garrett Gagne of Longmeadow had consumed “hour after hour of alcohol” at bars and house parties while celebrating New Year’s Eve, O’Keefe said. He would not say how long the senior at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., had been separated from his friends before the fatal accident.
“The friends were too impaired to be looking for him,” he said in a phone interview.
O’Keefe said Gagne, a college lacrosse player and former Massachusetts state champion in ski racing, was drinking hard alcohol, but he would not identify the drugs.
“We want to be somewhat circumspect at this point about what we say, as the investigation continues,” he said.
“It was a terrible tragedy for the young man’s family, as it was for the police officer.”
Earlier Friday, officials identified the police cruiser’s driver as Officer Christopher Vardakis, who has served on the Chatham force since 2013.
Vardakis, 34, was responding to a burglary alarm at a nearby business when he ran over Gagne, who was lying in the southbound lane of Crowell Road, police said Thursday. The officer could not be reached for comment Friday.
Over the years, Vardakis has been cited for several traffic violations, according to the state Department of Transportation. Between 1999 and 2008, he was cited for speeding twice in Massachusetts and once in New Hampshire, deemed at fault in two car crashes, and cited once for not wearing his seat belt.
In late 2007, Vardakis also had his right to drive in New Hampshire revoked for three months after failing to pay a speeding ticket.
O’Keefe said in a press release that the officer would remain on leave while investigators from his office and the State Police Crash Reconstruction Team look into the accident.
“The preliminary investigation shows head trauma consistent with the body being struck while prone,” O’Keefe said in the announcement.
Chatham Police Chief Mark R. Pawlina told the Globe on Thursday that Gagne was drinking to celebrate New Year’s Eve with several friends.
In Longmeadow and elsewhere, grieving family and friends recalled a young man known as much for his academic prowess as for his athleticism. At Longmeadow High School, he maintained a spot on the honor roll while excelling in sports, scoring game-winning goals as an attacker on his lacrosse team, and twice winning slalom competitions to be named the fastest skier his age in Massachusetts.
Gagne — one of four boys in his family — served as captain of the lacrosse and ski racing teams at Longmeadow High, where he was a three-time All-Scholastic and named the lacrosse team’s offensive player of the year.
“Garrett was an amazing guy, had an unreal attitude all the time and always had a smile on his face,” wrote Cam Mullins, a friend and teammate who played lacrosse with Gagne in college, in a Facebook message to the Globe.
Gagne’s relatives did not return messages requesting a statement.
Because of incorrect information provided by prosecutors, an earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Christopher Vardakis.