A Nassau County judge found a Hempstead public safety officer not guilty of vehicular manslaughter charges in the July 2011 death of a pedestrian, saying that while he was legally drunk, prosecutors did not prove that his drunkenness caused the accident.
In a verdict read from the bench Monday, Judge Jerald Carter found Robert Core, 43, not guilty of first- and second-degree vehicular manslaughter, but guilty of aggravated drunken driving, a misdemeanor. Core, who was on duty at the time, will face up to a year in jail when Carter sentences him Sept. 27. That's substantially less than the 5 to 15 years he would have faced if he'd been convicted of the most serious charge.
Carter said in court that evidence presented in Core's two-week trial showed that the victim in the case, Eddie Cotto, 50, of Lindenhurst, had a blood-alcohol level of .26 percent as he crossed Hempstead Turnpike near Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow. Carter said Cotto was seeking admission to the hospital's alcohol rehabilitation program, and had started drinking after being told by staff that he needed to be intoxicated to be admitted.
A spokeswoman for Nassau University Medical Center declined to comment on the case.
Cotto's fiancee, Diane Ware, said she was disappointed in the verdict.
"What's to stop the next person from killing someone?" Ware said. "He [Core] is twice the legal limit for drinking alcohol and driving a car. Now another family's got to get destroyed."
Core declined to comment as he left court. But his defense lawyer, Lloyd Nadel of Mineola, said Cotto came out of nowhere, and there was no way Core could have stopped in time.
"I'm sure all of us have been driving when someone has jumped out in front of our car," Nadel said. "It was dark, he was outside the crosswalk, he wasn't looking where he was going. It is our position that Mr. Core could not have seen him."
Core continued driving with Cotto clinging to the hood and windshield for more than 150 feet before Core stopped and Cotto fell to the pavement, police said at the time.
In his closing argument before Carter on Friday, prosecutor Michael Bushwack said at the time of the crash Core was heading to investigate complaints of kids trespassing at the town-owned Wolcott Pool in Levittown. Bushwack said Core, who told police he had 40 ounces of Colt 45 malt liquor with his dinner about five hours earlier, registered .17 percent blood alcohol content at the time of the crash, more than twice the legal limit.
"He endangered the same people he is paid to protect," Bushwack said.
Core, a single father who had earned $70,343 a year, has since been fired, a town spokeswoman said.