Grieving fiancé says 'everything was perfect' before fatal crash
By John R. Ellement, Globe Staff | April 25, 2006
CLINTON -- James Rousseau yesterday used a single word to describe the one and only time he ever held his son, James Jr.
''Amazing," said Rousseau, recalling the moment Saturday night in Clinton Hospital when he held his son, delivered by emergency surgery, moments before the infant died.
Rousseau and his fiancée, Katelyn DiSessa, both 21, had dropped off his new motorcycle at his mother's house in Clinton and were headed back to their apartment in Leominster when their car was hit by a van driven by David E. Zoller, 33, of Littleton.
''I couldn't have made the whole situation any better," Rousseau said of the life he and DiSessa were living until Saturday night. ''Everything was perfect."
Rousseau spoke moments before Zoller was arraigned in Clinton District Court on two counts of motor vehicle homicide while drunk and operating negligently. Zoller pleaded not guilty to those charges stemming from the crash Saturday about 6 p.m. and was ordered held on $50,000 cash bail by Judge Martha Scannell Brennan.
Rousseau was driving westbound on Route 62 in Lancaster when Zoller's vehicle crossed the centerline, forcing Rousseau to veer to the left to avoid colliding head-on, according to Rousseau and police.
Zoller's Ford van smashed into the front passenger side, fatally injuring DiSessa, who was eight months pregnant. She was rushed to Clinton Hospital.
Zoller's parents were in the courtroom, sitting silently just a few feet away from where Rousseau and DiSessa's grief-stricken relatives sat, some of whom were openly weeping as they clutched photographs of their lost relative.
According to his attorney, Zoller has never been arrested before, has worked for the same lumber yard for 17 years, and is the emotional and financial support for his parents, with whom he lives.
''This is a tragic accident," John F. Gallant said. He also said that Zoller is a professional mountain bike rider.
Zoller's family left the courthouse without speaking to reporters.
According to the Registry of Motor Vehicles, Zoller was involved in a crash in 2003 in Concord, but had no other driving violations until Saturday's fatal crash.
According to a Lancaster police report filed in court, Zoller refused to take a breath test but was charged with drunken driving after officers smelled alcohol on his breath and determined that he was unable to walk steadily after the crash.
Zoller also allegedly said he had ''two or three beers" at a friend's house in Rutland about 1 p.m. Zoller had met friends at Worcester Airport and then had gone mountain bike riding, the report states.
During an interview before the arraignment, Rousseau said he can't sleep because every time he closes his eyes, he sees Zoller's van coming toward him and then hears the sounds of the two vehicles colliding.
''I just heard the bang," he said. ''It was so loud I didn't hear the airbag go off in my face."
Rousseau said he jumped out of the smashed GMC Jimmy and rushed over to DiSessa and asked her to talk. ''I just wanted her to say something, and she wouldn't," he said.
In court, one of DiSessa's aunts, Cheryl Medeiros, left her seat and stood in the aisle to get a better view of Zoller.
Outside the courtroom, Medeiros said she rushed to Clinton Hospital at 2 a.m., expecting to greet DiSessa and the newborn. Instead, she found her niece strapped to a gurney, tubes running from her mouth, her body stained with blood.
Like Rousseau, Medeiros got to briefly meet James Rousseau Jr. ''He was absolutely beautiful," she said, between sobs. ''He was a person. He was eight months."
''It wasn't supposed to happen, you know?" Medeiros said of the loss of DiSessa and her son. ''It wasn't supposed to happen."
John Ellement can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
© Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.