For months, the family of a Hempstead man who authorities said was left to die on the Southern State Parkway after a December 2014 hit-and-run crash waited to hear if someone would face consequences for the crash.
On Wednesday, they gave thanks as law enforcement officials led an Oyster Bay man into an arraignment on charges linked to the death of Sherman Richardson, 59. The union ironworker, who was preparing for retirement, was on his way to his job when the wreck happened.
Madi Grant, 34, pleaded not guilty to charges including manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter, assault, leaving a fatal crash, driving while intoxicated, arson, conspiracy and evidence tampering.DataLI crime stats
"It has been painful not knowing the who, the what, and the why of what happened on that day," the victim's widow, Jawana Richardson, said. "It is my hope that justice will be achieved for Sherman due to prosecution of this case."
Nassau Assistant District Attorney Stefanie Palma said Grant caused the crash driving home from a strip club, before fleeing and conspiring with at least one person, who remains at large, to pour gas on the Chevrolet Captiva he had been driving and burn it up.
Witnesses said Grant drank alcohol and smoked marijuana while out that night, according to prosecutors.
"After 10 long months, we got him," Palma told Nassau County Judge David Sullivan in a Mineola courtroom.
State Police said the Dec. 5 crash happened about 6:30 a.m. on the eastbound Southern State Parkway in the Farmingdale area. Authorities claim Grant's borrowed, rental sport utility vehicle slammed into the back of Richardson's vehicle as Grant drove recklessly, forcing the victim's car off the road and into a tree.
Authorities said one bystander helped by pulling over to try to aid Richardson, and another followed the suspect's SUV and gave 911 a partial plate number and vehicle description. Law enforcement officials found the SUV burning in North Amityville later that day.
Grant's arraignment attorney, Christopher Devane of Mineola, sought $100,000 bail, saying: "There's no way they can prove many of the charges."
But Sullivan set bail at $500,000 cash or $1 million bond.
While leaving in handcuffs, Grant denied any wrongdoing.
"They should be looking for the criminal who hurt the family. It wasn't me," he said. "I never hurt anybody."
Standing with Richardson's wife, acting District Attorney Madeline Singas called on state lawmakers to increase hit-and-run penalties, saying Grant faced a stiffer penalty for the arson charge than his alleged actions related to the crash scene.
Singas said leaving a fatal crash should be a C felony, with a top penalty of up to 15 years in prison -- instead of up to 7 years behind bars for the D felony it is now.
"We cannot have an incentive built into the law that makes it worth the while of a defendant to flee, that makes it worth the while of a defendant to leave a man dying on the side of the road because he doesn't want evidence of his crime to be found that night," she said.
Richardson's widow remembered her husband of more than 20 years as her soul mate, a man who loved God, and someone "who made everyone he met feel like they mattered."
She thanked State Police and prosecutors for doggedly pursuing an arrest, and also advocated for stricter hit-and-run penalties, saying vehicular crimes "are becoming an epidemic here on Long Island."
She added: "If Sherman's case can help save the life of even one pedestrian or motorist, it will be a victory."