Drunken driver gets 8 years in crash that dragged teen
Many of Sarah Colletti's scars were hidden by a floor-length skirt, but the East Atlantic Beach teenager tearfully revealed her pain Friday -- shortly before the drunken driver who ran her down was sent to prison for 8 years.
As the 16-year-old sobbed, her younger sister, Emma, read a statement that sent shivers through a Nassau County courtroom packed with family and friends.
When she wakes, Colletti wrote, the first thing she sees in the mirror are the scars on her legs and arms. When she sleeps, she relives the horror of being pinned under a sport utility vehicle and dragged 600 feet, trapped under her bicycle.
"There is a particular oil smell which reminds me of being under your car," she said in the statement, addressed to the defendant, German Gutierrez. "When I hear a certain screeching noise it reminds me of the bike grinding against the concrete as I was being dragged.
"You dragged me and burned me so bad that on certain parts of my body I had no skin left and my bones were exposed. It's like you ripped the skin off me," Colletti wrote.
Gutierrez had pleaded guilty to first-degree depraved indifference assault, aggravated drunken driving and leaving the scene of an accident with physical injury. He had faced 5 to 25 years in prison if convicted of the top charge.
At the time of the Sept. 3, 2012, crash, Colletti was walking her bike across East Beech Street in Long Beach. It was about 9 p.m., and a 2002 Jeep Liberty with its headlights off came barreling toward her after running a stop sign at Edwards Boulevard, authorities said.
Prosecutors said Gutierrez, 50, of Long Beach, employed at a software business, had just left a local bar. His blood-alcohol level would later be tested at 0.30 percent -- nearly four times the legal limit.
Gutierrez kept driving after hitting Colletti, pinning the teenager beneath her bike and dragging her down the street, prosecutors said. After the girl fell away from the vehicle, Gutierrez continued driving, striking a parked vehicle and jumping the curb before stopping in the street.
He told arresting officers that he'd had "like, a thousand drinks" that night, plus some cocaine and Valium, according to court records.
A year later, Colletti said in her statement that the enduring pain in her hand keeps her from playing the guitar. The high school senior can't compete in dance competitions or do any modeling, as she'd planned. Her schoolwork has suffered because she spent so much time being treated by doctors and physical therapists.
Colletti said she's had five surgeries -- with a couple more expected later this year. The skin grafts have left her with permanent scars.
"No amount of prison time will ever undo the physical and emotional damage that Mr. Gutierrez inflicted upon this innocent young girl, whose life is now changed forever," Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice said in a statement. "Today's sentence, however, ensures that he pays a serious price for his crimes as a drunken driver."
Nassau County Court Judge Tammy Robbins allowed Gutierrez to speak before she sentenced him. He apologized to Colletti and her family, and asked for their forgiveness.
"This accident and the fact that I hurt an innocent young person has left a pit in my chest," he said through tears. "The thought of this haunts me throughout my day."
Gutierrez said in court that he has been struggling with alcohol addiction for a "good portion" of his life, but since the crash has worked hard to remain sober by joining several programs. He and his girlfriend recently had a son, he said, which gives him another reason to change his ways.
Colletti and her family left the Mineola courtroom without commenting, but their attorney, Michael Eisenman of Manhattan, said he intends to sue Gutierrez and the bar that served him.
"I don't think any family would ever believe that eight years, 10 years, 15 years is enough time," he said of the sentence. "But they're content with what happened, and they realize that this is a tragedy for everyone involved."