Sad News in Watertown

January 25, 2018

Sad News in Watertown

WATERTOWN – The owner of the Country Cinema, who was struck by a hit-and-run driver Tuesday night, died late Wednesday, Watertown police said.

Police have the driver, 22-year-old Andrew Michael Pighinni of Watertown, in custody. After the crash he was charged with felony evading and failure to drive right.

Police expect to file additional charges and are waiting for the results of a toxicology test on the suspect.

Police believe 74-year-old Miratit “Mike” Ajro was getting into his car after leaving the cinema at about 9 p.m. Tuesday when he was struck by a Toyota Corolla driven by Pighinni, police said.

Ajro’s vehicle was parallel parked on Main Street, facing north, outside the cinema. The impact knocked Ajro onto the windshield of the Corolla, which also struck two parked cars as it fled the scene, police said.

Police responded to the scene and found Ajro lying in the roadway, partially on the sidewalk, with severe injuries.

Police said the car had damage to its right front bumper and right fender, a missing passenger side mirror, dents to the hood and a smashed windshield. Ajro’s cellphone was embedded in the windshield, police said.

“It was apparent from the damage and the victim’s cellphone that we had the person responsible,” Chief John C. Gavallas said.

The cause of the crash is under investigation by the Central Naugatuck Valley Accident Reconstruction Team.

Ajro, who is well-known in town, suffered life-threatening injuries and died Wednesday around 9 p.m. at Waterbury Hospital, said Officer Christopher Donston, who is an investigator on the reconstruction team. He said the team was notified of Ajro’s death by the hospital and the Office of the State Medical Examiner.

Ajro and his brother, Nazif “Nick” Ajro, have owned and operated the theater since 1980.

The Watertown Police Commission has been working with local police and the state Department of Transportation to increase pedestrian safety along Main Street after a woman was struck and killed by a driver more than a year ago in front of Rock Garden Cafe, just a few storefronts away from the cinema. Police stepped up patrols, and more visible crosswalks and crosswalk signs were installed.

Watertown Police Commission Chairman Richard Antonetti said this accident reinforces the importance of driver awareness.

“There is a great need for education to have people observe the speed limits, obey signs and traffic enforcement,” he said.

Antonetti said he recently heard of a woman who was crossing Main Street when a truck stopped for her but a car passed the truck.

The commission had looked into a pedestrian-crossing flashing light, but it was cost prohibitive. Antonetti had said if the new safety measures were not working and another tragic accident happened, he would push for the light regardless of the cost.

He also said better lighting at night is needed. Since Main Street is a state road, any work there, from lights to signs to crosswalks, requires state DOT approval.

“That really ties the hands of our local traffic authority,” Antonetti said.

Speeding enforcement and better lighting along the downtown stretch would be next on the agenda for Main Street safety, he said.

“If we have to set up speed traps on that road, that’s the next approach,” Antonetti said.

State Sen. Eric C. Berthel, R-32nd District, and state Rep. Joseph Polletta, R-Watertown, on Wednesday issued a joint statement saying they are shocked and saddened by the tragic accident.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Ajro family. Mike Ajro has been a good friend to our community and a champion for Main Street small business growth.”

Like Antonetti, Berthel and Polletta said their focus as state legislators is on assessing the safety of Main Street.

“We will be working with local law enforcement and municipal officials to discuss what, if any, improvements can be made. We will also share our concerns with state transportation officials, gather input and talk about ways to make Main Street safer for motorists and pedestrians.”

The two said residents can contact them to share their thoughts, concerns and ideas.

Reach Berthel at 800-842-1421 and Polletta at 800-842-1423.