Fire official cleared in motor vehicle case
  Joanne M. Pelton, Naugatuck Valley Bureau Chief   November 02, 2000

SHELTON — The state Appellate Court has overturned a lower court decision that found an assistant fire chief guilty of motor vehicle violations while speeding to the scene of a fire two years ago.

The appeals decision issued Wednesday reverses a November 1999 decision by Judge George Ripley in Superior Court in Derby against Shelton Assistant Fire Chief Stephen Nesteriak. 

Appellate court judges said Nesteriak, 58, should have been shielded from criminal liability under state statutes that exempt firefighters and other emergency personnel from receiving tickets on the way to emergencies, except when the driver endangers life or property. 

The court ordered that Nesteriak be acquitted of the charges. 

The Chief State’s Attorney’s Office may now appeal the decision of the appellate court to the state Supreme Court. 

Attorney Robin Schwartz, special deputy assistant state’s attorney, declined to say whether the state would do so. 

Police arrested Nesteriak July 9, 1998, while he was on his way to a house fire. He was arrested after a volunteer firefighter complained to police that Nesteriak had crossed the yellow line on the road and forced him off the road. 

The firefighter was on his way home from work and did not pull over when he saw the lights and heard the siren from Nesteriak’s vehicle. 

Nesteriak was originally charged with reckless driving but the charges were later reduced to minor motor vehicle violations. 

The case went to trial and a judge found Nesteriak guilty of improper passing and failure to keep right. He was fined $150 for the two infractions and then appealed the decision to the appellate court. 

Derby lawyer Dominick Thomas, who represents Nesteriak, said he was confident they would prevail in appellate court. 

"Steve is happy with this decision. He chose to fight it on principle because he was only doing his duty," he said. 

City officials said they were elated by the decision. 

Mayor Mark A. Lauretti said the issue should never have gone this far. "It was a ridiculous charge to begin with," said Lauretti. 

Kenneth Nappi, the city’s director of public safety, said Nesteriak has been a firefighter for more than 20 years and is still on the job. 

"It’s a great decision," he said. "It’s unfortunate that we needed to get an interpretation of a law like this. I’m glad some sense finally came out of this."