Cops: Driver kills man walking dog in Old Bethpage

Matthew Johnstone, 37, of Massapequa, has been charged

Matthew Johnstone, 37, of Massapequa, has been charged with leaving the scene of an accident in which there was a death, after fatally hitting a man and his dog as they were walking along Round Swamp Road in Old Bethpage, the Nassau County district attorney's office said. (Sept. 19, 2013) Photo Credit: NCPD, Paul Mazza

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A man charged with a felony for leaving the scene of an accident after his car struck and killed an Old Bethpage man and his dog was not intoxicated or under the influence of drugs at the time, his attorney said Thursday.

Police said Matthew Johnstone, 37, of North Massapequa, was southbound on Round Swamp Road in Old Bethpage in his 2013 Dodge Viper when he hit Robert Michels, 42, and his dog about 12:27 a.m. Thursday. Johnstone left without stopping, but "had a change of heart and came back to the scene," where he was arrested, a police spokeswoman said.

"The key part of this case is that he returned, my information is, within a half-hour of this event. All [drug and alcohol] tests conducted on him were absolutely negative," attorney Kevin Keating of Garden City said after Johnstone was arraigned in First District Court in Hempstead.

"He fully cooperated with police," Keating said.

Michels was pronounced dead at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow at 1:05 a.m. The dog died at the scene, police said.

Michels, a construction worker, sometimes took nighttime walks with Scrappy, his 6-year-old Labrador-husky mix, said his older brother Frank Thomas Michels, who described the victim as exceptionally generous and friendly. "He was definitely an outgoing person, everybody that knows him loved him -- we've got people coming by and you know just expressing their love," he said.

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The accident took place after Johnstone had left his job as an X-ray technician at Huntington Hospital, Keating said.

He was charged with leaving the scene of a fatal accident, a D-level felony punishable by up to 7 years in prison if convicted, the Nassau County district attorney's office said.

Judge Eric Bjorneby set bail at $20,000 bond or $10,000 cash and Johnstone did not enter a plea. He remained in jail late Thursday.

Surviving Michels are his mother, Esther; father, Frank; brothers, Frank and James; two nieces; and two nephews.

"He was a great brother and he was the type of guy who wished no harm on anyone but also he was a smart person, very intuitive and, man, we're going to miss him," his oldest brother said.

With Joan Gralla

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