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Ted Waddell | Democrat

FROM THE LEFT, Sullivan County District Attorney Stephen Lungen, Liberty Police Department Lt. Robert Mir and Monticello Police Department Chief Doug Solomon face the media at Friday’s press conference.

'Accidental' death

By Ted Waddell
MONTICELLO — March 18, 2008 — Wrong time, wrong place. It was an accident, a small drug deal gone bad.
On Friday, March 14, Sullivan County District Attorney Stephen Lungen faced a phalanx of metro and local media during a press conference designed to put to rest the word on the streets of Monticello and Liberty that the death of Reginald “Reggie” Rios-Costello was a homicide.
“We have some unrest in our community because people think there was a homicide,” he said. “We do not have a homicide. We have an unfortunate accident.”
Flanked by New York State Police (NYSP) Lt. Brian Shortall, Liberty Police Department Lt. Robert Mir and Doug Solomon, Chief of the Monticello Police Department, Lungen kicked off the brief press briefing by stating the reason for the conference was to “dispel rumors in the neighborhood… and quiet down some people” before they could take “some form of retaliation for what happened to Reginald Rios.”
On Wednesday, February 27, authorities received a 911 call and responded to 46 Chestnut Street in the Village of Liberty after a couple of boys shoveling snow discovered a dead body partially exposed to the elements.
The victim was later identified as 17-year-old Reginald Rios-Costello, who lived with his stepfather Abdul Wadood, owner of Crown Fried Chicken, located on Broadway in Monticello.
According to Lungen, what otherwise could have been a routine investigation into the death, was hampered by misinformation provided to authorities.
“We were significantly misled,” said the DA. “A lot of the friends and participants sent us on some wild goose chases, what should have been an easy case became much more involved [because] of rumors on the street.”
“We were led astray, both by Mr. Johnson and family members, particularly the stepfather of the deceased, [who] gave us a couple of versions of the story we had to straighten out.”
Lungen said that due to “good police work,” no one was being charged with crimes related to the death of the popular teenager.
“In the initial stages of the investigation, it appeared the circumstances surrounding the death were drug related, and the police treated it as a homicide investigation,” said Lungen.
CSI finds some answers
Lungen said that the NYSP crime scene investigation unit discovered human blood in an upstairs hallway with “definite signs of a fight” but “no blood in the basement or signs of a fight or struggle in the basement.”
During the initial stages of the investigation, Angelo Dion Johnson, 32, one of the residents of the apartment building at 46 Chestnut Street, along with numerous others, was interviewed by authorities.
“Police observed he had numerous cuts and abrasions on his body,” said Lungen, who added that preliminary finding of the autopsy performed the next day of the body of Rios-Costello “revealed… multiple abrasions around his face and hands, indicative of being involved in a fight.”
Lungen said results of the autopsy were consistent with the way in which the body was discovered: reticular hemorrhages, linear marks on the neck, blunt force superficial injuries, pulmonary edema and congestion.
He said the cause of death was “asphyxiation due to compression of the neck.”
According to authorities, Rios-Costello became wedged between the padlocked snow-covered bilco door and the door frame, and essentially strangled to death with his feet dangling off the basement floor.
At first, Johnson denied knowing the deceased, but after the NYSP crime lab determined that trace elements the victim’s blood were on his jacket and pants, also with a transfer of Johnson’s blood to Rios-Costello, Johnson was re-interviewed on March 6 in the presence of legal counsel.
“He told authorities the fight on February 27 was over marijuana and money,” said Lungen, adding in essence that low levels of the active components in cannabis had been found in the blood of the deceased.
On March 7, Johnson “passed” a polygraph examination.
“His explanation came out to be acceptable and truthful… he didn’t know why Rios was in the basement and what happened to him after the fight,” said Lungen.
According to Lungen, authorities reached several conclusions: Rios-Costello went to 46 Chestnut street voluntarily “with the purpose of a marijuana transaction with Dion Johnson,” whom he had met earlier in the morning of February 27 in Monticello, and driven back to Johnson’s apartment in Liberty, and a fight ensured.
Shooting incident unrelated
Lungen confirmed that a shooting incident in the Village on Monticello the day after Rios-Costello’s body was discovered was unrelated to what was later determined to be an accidental death (under unusual circumstances).
According to Monticello Police Chief Solomon, at approximately 1:14 a.m. on February 28, 911 received a call of shots fired at 31 Fulton Street, and Monticello PD, along with NYSP and SCSD deputies responded.
Within minutes of the report, police conducted a vehicle stop and subsequently arrested Derek Moorer, 27 and Devaughn Brown, 20, both of Monticello. A sawed off shotgun was recovered from the vehicle.
“Two individuals (Moorer and Brown) went to the residence of Jeremy Hackett… shots were fired at the residents, one through a window and one through the front door,” said Solomon.
“They thought this Jeremy Hackett was somehow involved in the death of Rios, [but] through extensive interviews and investigation, that was found to be untrue,” he added.
According to authorities, Moore and Brown attempted to kick their way through the door of the residence after firing shotgun blasts, but were unsuccessful in gaining entry as residents had locked and bolted the front door.
Moore and Brown were charged with several felonies, including criminal possession of a weapon in the 2nd degree and criminal use of a firearm in the 1st degree. They are currently in the Sullivan County Jail.
State of unbelief
Abdul Wadood said he couldn’t believe what happened to his stepson.
“I don’t believe it,” he said, adding that he planned to call the Reginald’s mother, who lives in Newark, New Jersey.
Wadood and Catherine Costello have been separated for about two years.
Before the start of the press conference, the deceased’s older brother Bryant Costello, 21, of Monticello, sat in the ante room waiting for a chance to talk with the DA.
“I’m just totally dumbfounded,” he said. “I was in New Jersey on the 27th with my mother and everybody, and Reggie was up here with his stepfather, and I got a phone call from his friend… I couldn’t believe what happened. “My brother was at the wrong place, at the wrong time,” added Costello. “He was the most honest, hard working kid. If you were starving on the street, he would give you food for free, he was cool with it.”
As he sat waiting for the DA, Costello clutched a book titled “Dreams and Interpretations” by Allamh Mohammed Bin Sireen, a well-read paperback once owned by his brother.
According to the DA, the death of Rios-Costello “was absolutely” unrelated to any gang activity.
“Why Rios goes into the basement of the apartment, rather than going out the front door, is still something that remains unknown, and probably will be unknown…” Lungen said.
After the press conference and the media packed up its bags, Lungen said, “There’s no need or basis for anybody to take the law into their own hands. We’ve already had a shooting incident in the Village of Monticello, and we’re trying to prevent any further acts of violence.”

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