Witnesses who spotted Albany County Legislator Ann M. Comella as she was about to enter Alternate Route 7 heading in the wrong direction shortly before her fatal automobile accident Jan. 29 immediately contacted police, said authorities.
By the time they responded at 11 p.m., Comella’s vehicle had already traveled that fateful mile and a half and was overturned on the side of the road after striking another vehicle.
A state police investigation has confirmed that Comella, 54, was legally intoxicated at the time of her accident.
Comella died Thursday, Feb. 1, from severe head injuries suffered in the Jan. 29 collision. She had been out with co-workers the night of her accident, authorities said, and toxicology reports released last week placed her blood alcohol content at .17 percent — more than twice the legal limit.
Police traced Comella’s steps that night as she and five co-workers from the Loudonville branch of Coldwell Banker Prime Properties boarded a limousine and celebrated the birthday of an employee at several Albany establishments.
We talked to the co-workers who were out that night, the limousine driver and the witnesses that saw her turn onto Alternate Route 7, said Maureen Tuffey, State Police Troop G spokeswoman. `The witnesses called it in. By the time they (troopers) got there, she had already crashed.`
Tuffey said one witness who spotted Comella stopped at the Route 9 Columbia Street traffic light said she appeared intoxicated.
Comella and three other employees left the company headquarters on Columbia Street in Latham at approximately 5:15 p.m. The group then proceeded to Guilderland to pick up a fifth person. A sixth met them at their first location and shared the limousine thereafter.
Police said Comella and co-workers went to several bars in Albany. Tuffey would not identify the establishments but said there was no criminality found on their part.
Comella simply made the wrong choice, she said.
That choice was to not accept the ride home from the hired limousine driver.
Only one in the party of six accepted the ride, said Tuffey. All others were driven back to the office where one other person got a ride home from a family member.
`They had planned this thing the best one could hope,` said 1st Sgt. Lenny Couch with the Albany County Sheriff’s Department Stop DWI program. `They planned to go back to one location, but what was almost a perfect plan had a flaw right from the get go.`
That flaw, said Crouch, was to not seek rides back to their respective homes but instead to their cars at the office.
Comella crashed, but what happened to the rest, asked Crouch.
`Did they drive intoxicated, legally intoxicated, impaired or sober?` he said.
According to the investigation, at approximately 10:55 p.m., Comella was dropped off at her vehicle in Latham. She then left the parking lot, traveling west on Columbia Street, crossing Route 9 and entered the Route 7 highway exit ramp driving eastbound in the westbound lanes.
State police responded to the accident at 11 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 29.
Comella’s vehicle had overturned after sideswiping the vehicle of Kelly Fox, 20, of Altamont. Fox suffered minor injuries.
Responding troopers said they detected an odor of alcohol at the scene.
If Comella had survived the accident, she would have been arrested for driving while intoxicated, said Tuffey. The people who were with her that night learned a tough lesson, she said.
Comella was the manager of the Loudonville branch of Coldwell Banker Prime Properties. Before her election to the legislature in 2004, she was involved in several local charity organizations. She was past president of the Loudonville Elementary School Parent-Teacher Association.
Comella was to run for a second legislative term in the upcoming elections.
She was one of eight Republican legislators in the 39-member county council as well as the sixth legislator representing portions of Colonie.“