Photo courtesy of Preston Garcia A flyer was distributed around campus after the hit-and-run to senior Breanna Babiarz’ Jeep over the summer.
On July 3, a handful of Castleton University science student interns the were eating lunch under the hot sun, with construction workers nearby, and everything was fine.
Then, they heard a loud crash.
The interns, who were working over the summer with science professor Preston Garcia through a National Science Foundation grant to research molecular biology, went out to discover a car in the Jeffords with significant damage, and another car, a black Toyota Camry, speeding away.
The banged-up car belonged to Breanna Babiarz, a senior biology major from New York. This was her third summer in Garcia’s lab. Initially, she described it as “just another summer.”
Minutes later in Rutland, another accident had been reported – caused by the same black Toyota Camry.
“Everybody was saying, and I still believe it true today, that he hit that car just to hide the damage to my car,” Babiarz said after hearing about the accident in Rutland. “Hitting my car and leaving is a felony, hitting that car in Rutland and having it reported wasn’t a felony.”
The driver of the Toyota was identified as Christopher Kosmalski. Kosmalski was working as a subcontractor at the university, and is a felon.
According to a 2008 article from the Rutland Herald, Kosmalski was sentenced to 13 to 32 years in prison after pleading guilty to second-degree unlawful restraint, two charges of grand larceny and one charge of being an accessory to a felony after the fact for the murder of Renato Wieser.
Babiarz was mad, and got even more mad at the fact that she was working in the same building as Kosmalski.
“It’s actually ridiculous that Castleton isn’t responsible to do a background check, it’s the construction company,” Babiarz said. “This is Castleton’s campus, why aren’t they responsible? Preston has a 2-year-old son running around. It’s just ridiculous.”
Since the accident, Babiarz has had a lot of insurance issues, since neither Kosmalski, or his girlfriend who owned the car, are insured. The damage to Babiarz’s car was over half of what it’s worth, and she has been using a rental car for the past few months.
So who exactly is to blame?
“No one’s to blame but him,” says Garcia. “I don’t lay any blame on anyone here at Castleton, no one on the construction crew … but it seems like there are some policies that need to be put in place in the future, because had this not happened, we wouldn’t know that there was a violent criminal on parole working in the building, which I am totally not comfortable with.”
He hopes that the school is able to put an official policy in place to prevent from having a criminal on campus again.
“I think about what could’ve happened with him and a student in the building, just because this guy did have a documented violent history, and that really bothers me,” he said.
Public Safety Director Keith Molinari tried to shed a little more light on this incident.
“My understanding is that the college was to issue an N.A.T through the police department, which is a Notice Against Trespass so that he cannot come anywhere near Castleton property,” he said. “The police had subsequently charged him with, and I don’t know the exact charges in Vermont, as leaving the scene of an accident, but that’s in general what was charged for him.”
According to the Rutland Police report, Kosmalski was issued a citation for driving with a criminally suspended license. Molinari says that it’s unfortunate the incident occurred, but the matter really belongs with the Police Department.
Dennis Proulx, dean of students, said that as a public place, the university doesn’t decide who can be on campus, except for residence halls, but the campus is open to the public.
“I think there is a perception of safety on campus that I would love to enhance,” he said. “I would love for everyone to feel safe. When an incident like this occurs, the assumptions that we have of safety are questioned … you start to wonder how this could have been avoided. I don’t know how this could have been avoided. I understand that if you look to someone who has a criminal record, and somehow you can screen them out, the perception is that you’d be safer.”
He said it would be wonderful if Castleton could step in and make everyone whole, but that’s just not how it works.
“Blaming Castleton, I get that reaction. I don’t know how to rectify it for them, other than to talk about what is and isn’t a policy, what we do and don’t do, and how we do try to do the right thing.”