Somers man charged in hit-and-run crash that killed Vernon father, soccer coach last week

Zach Murdock, Hartford Courant

A 41-year-old Somers man has been arrested and charged for a hit-and-run crash that left a Vernon father and volunteer coach dead on the side of the street near his home.

Investigators say Philip Holmes drove the car, still damaged and with streaks of blood on the hood, past the scene of the crime the day after the crash where he was stopped and questioned at a police checkpoint in the neighborhood.

Armed with pieces of the car and video evidence from neighbors, detectives caught Holmes lying about the damage to his car in the very spot where 44-year-old Andrew Aggarwala was found dead the day before, according to arrest warrant affidavits released Monday night.

Holmes was arrested Tuesday in East Granby where he works and was charged with four offenses, including the scene of the fatal crash and drug possession, Vernon police announced Tuesday night.

Police believe that Aggarwala was walking his dog along Phoenix Street about 2:52 p.m. Nov. 24 when he was hit by a sedan speeding south on the road that then fled the area. One witness heard the “thud” of the impact and rushed out to find Aggarwala hurt on the side of the road.

The first emergency personnel on the scene tried to treat the severely injured Aggarwala, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.

The investigation prompted an enormous response from Vernon police and surrounding departments, including neighborhood canvasses and a police checkpoint the following day to stop every car passing through the area to ask for information and tips.

Officers scouring the neighborhood for home security cameras obtained footage from two nearby homeowners showing what appeared to be a silver or gray sedan just before the crash a few hundred meters from the scene and another just after the crash, now with damage to its front passenger side, according to the affidavit. Officers then also visited a used car lot to compare pieces of a shattered headlamp from the scene to cars on the lot, which they discovered closely matched 7- to 9-year-old Hyundai Sonata models.

At the checkpoint the day after the crash, Holmes pulled up at the scene in a silver Hyundai Sonata with damage to the passenger side of the car, the hood and its windshield, according to the affidavit. Officers pulled him out of the line to examine the car and speak to him, but he denied having been in the area the day before and first claimed a coworker had backed into his car the night before telling officers he hit a mailbox.

Detectives confronted Holmes there, explaining they had matching pieces of his car and video of the car in the area, and an emotional Holmes told officers “he didn’t know how any of this happened,” court records show. He told officers he wanted a lawyer and the interview ended.

Officers seized and examined Holmes’ Sonata, discovering damage to the car -- down to teeth marks and prints from Aggarwala’s hat -- matched what was found at the scene. Officers found drug paraphernalia, including wax sleeves and a pipe, inside the car and Holmes’ family told police he used heroin.

Later that night, Holmes called detectives back and claimed that he did not know he had hit a person the day before and assumed it was an inanimate object, according to the warrant affidavit. He told officers he had not used drugs and could not explain why he did not stop at the time of the crash, nor had he seen the news that a man had been killed where he had crashed.

“Oh man, I’m not that kind of person, I would have stopped had I have known,” Holmes told a detective that night.

Detectives developed a warrant to charge Holmes and he was arrested without incident Tuesday night in East Granby. He was held on $100,000 bond and was scheduled to appear in Superior Court in Rockville on Tuesday morning.

A beloved local volunteer sports coach, Aggarwala was a leader in the Vernon Soccer Club, officials said.

“Andrew was well-loved among our club and will be missed. Andrew was a dedicated board member, coach, and friend to all who knew him,” said Keith Hodson, the club president, in a statement last week. “He was recognized with multiple awards for his volunteerism and community involvement. Andrew was to be the recipient of our 2020 Volunteer of the Year for his dedication to the Town of Vernon and its youth.”

At the time Aggarwala was hit, his young family’s puppy ran away from the scene and went missing for several days. The puppy has since been located and returned safely to the Aggarwala family.

Zach Murdock can be reached at zmurdock@courant.com.

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