A Setauket cardiologist who killed a woman while driving drunk went to jail Friday with words of forgiveness and encouragement from the victim’s family in his ears.
The husband and sons of Monica Peterman, 45, of Middle Island, told Thomas Stavola they knew he didn’t intend to hurt anyone early on June 14, 2014, when he ran a red light at East Main Street and Route 111 in Smithtown.
Stavola’s Audi slammed into a Mercedes-Benz driven by Peterman, a dialysis technician on her way to work at nearby St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center. The impact left Stavola’s front license plate embedded in the side of Peterman’s car.More coverageComplete coverage: Suspected DWI crashes, arrests on LI
“Mr. Stavola, if you go in [to jail] and only do 30 minutes or two hours, I want you to know I forgive you,” said Peterman’s oldest son, Bryan Greaves, 26, as Stavola’s family started to weep. “You’re still a great doctor. You’re still a great man, and I forgive you.”
Stavola pleaded guilty in October to second-degree manslaughter after he admitted to drinking beer in a bar before getting behind the wheel. After the crash, his blood alcohol content was 0.10 percent, higher than the legal limit of 0.08.
He could have gotten a sentence of 5 to 15 years in prison, but with the consent of Peterman’s family, Suffolk prosecutors and state Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho agreed to a 2-year jail term.
Stavola, 56, told Peterman’s family through tears that he has “tremendous regret and remorse,” before he was led from the courtroom in handcuffs.
The victim’s husband, Russell Peterman, said that while Stavola made “a terrible mistake,” making him serve years behind bars would not help anyone.
“My wife was a beautiful woman,” he said, then paused. “Life is unfair. I’m doing the best I can to continue her legacy.”
That legacy includes a soup kitchen and food pantry the family runs, Bryan Greaves said.
“My mother ran the entire operation,” he said, in addition to her job at the hospital.
He said he wished he could have sat down earlier with Stavola to tell him how he feels, but the family’s attorney in a lawsuit cautioned against that.
“I wanted to tell him I forgive him,” he said. “We don’t want to hold on to anger.”
Even so, family members said they feel Peterman’s loss keenly.
Another son, Justin Greaves, 24, said life is emptier without her.
“It’s hard,” he said. “The house is quiet. She was the joy of the house. The pain is unbearable.”
Her youngest child, Jordin Peterman, 14, said he was grateful he remembered to tell his mother he loved her the night before she died. He sobbed as he turned away from the lectern, and his father held him in his arms.
Defense attorney Alex Spiro of Manhattan appeared overwhelmed by the Peterman family’s words. He noted that attorneys often advise clients not to apologize for their actions until they’ve been convicted or plead guilty.
“I wish we could have apologized sooner, to this family,” Spiro said.
Stavola vowed to live up to the family’s hopes.
“I cannot put into words how horrible I feel,” he said. “I will dedicate my life to try to prevent this from happening again.”
“Thank you. I appreciate it,” Bryan Greaves replied, softly.
Camacho said the reaction of the victim’s family was amazing.
“It is remarkable to me that in the face of such pain, you can act with such grace,” the judge told them.
Afterward, Justin Greaves said it was satisfying to hear how sorry Stavola felt. He nodded when Bryan said he was convinced it was sincere.
Spiro, who spoke privately with the brothers, said, “They’re a wonderful and remarkable family.”
Prosecutors also expressed appreciation for the family’s character.
“They are such a gracious family,” said Assistant District Attorney John Scott Prudenti. “It breaks my heart even more when you see such good people going through this.”