A retired NYPD captain told a Nassau judge Wednesday that he has thousands of beautiful memories of his 21-year-old daughter who was killed in December when a drugged driver smashed into their car.
But one final memory is seared into his mind.
"This criminal made sure my last memory was of her trapped inside a piece of mangled metal that used to be my car, trying to touch her," said Robert Jestic, moments before Frank Pergola, 51, of Valley Stream, was sentenced to 31/3 to 10 years in prison.
Jestic, of Bellerose, Queens, was taking his daughter, Meghan, to her final exams at Molloy College in Rockville Centre, where she was studying to be a speech therapist, the morning of Dec. 19, prosecutor Everett Witherell said. Her younger brother, Brian, was supposed to be in the car, but was running late, prosecutor Brendan Ahern said.
They were trying to turn from Peninsula Boulevard onto West Marshall Street in Hempstead when Pergola, driving a 2011 Hyundai northbound "at a high rate of speed," ran a red light on Peninsula and slammed into their 2011 Kia, said police and a prosecutor with Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice's office.
The impact knocked the Kia off the road and into a utility pole on the sidewalk, police said. Meghan died an hour later at the hospital. Jestic was hospitalized at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow in serious condition with multiple broken bones.
"Think about laying in a hospital bed on Christmas Eve morning, knowing that at some location you're not even sure of, your daughter is being buried," said Jestic, 56, who wore a brace on his left leg and foot.
As Jestic spoke, family and friends in the packed courtroom wept audibly and raised photographs of Meghan so the judge could see.
"I wish him nothing but pain, suffering and misery for every day of the rest of his miserable life," said Jestic in Nassau County Court in Mineola. "This is not justice. How could justice ever allow a bum like this to breathe another breath?"
After his comments, Nassau County Court Judge George Peck, who had committed to the sentence when Pergola pleaded guilty in July to aggravated vehicular homicide -- the top charge he was facing -- and driving while his ability was impaired by drugs, asked Jestic to take two minutes to decide whether to withdraw his consent to the guilty plea.
Jestic told Peck the time to discuss such matters was months ago.
"I want this over today," he said. "This is just making it worse."
Asked if he wished to speak before he was sentenced, Pergola initially said yes, but then changed his mind after Jestic and several other family members began to file out of the courtroom, saying they had "no interest" in hearing anything Pergola, whose driver's license had been suspended multiple times before the crash, had to say.
His lawyer, Michael Dreishpoon, of Forest Hills, Queens, declined to comment after the sentencing.
Jestic, whose daughter received an honorary diploma from Molloy in May, said he's still unable to sleep and finds himself repeatedly calling out to his son when he's in bed to make sure he's all right.
"People call this an accident," Jestic said. "This was not an accident. It was a crime."