Authorities have "credible information" retired NYPD Officer Michael Elardo was drinking alcohol before a hit-and-run crash that killed a 13-year-old girl with Down syndrome, a prosecutor told a judge Thursday.
Elardo, 48, of Syosset, appeared in a Mineola court to plead not guilty to a charge of leaving the scene of a fatal crash. His lawyer later denied alcohol may have played a role.
"He was not intoxicated when this happened," said attorney Michael DerGarabedian of Rockville Centre, who declined to comment on whether his client drank any alcohol that night.
Bryanna Soplin died after the crash that happened shortly after midnight on June 15 on Hempstead Turnpike in Levittown. Relatives said the teenager may have wandered away from home in an attempt to visit her grandfather.
Her mother, Jennifer Curuchaga, 33, of Levittown, said through tears after Elardo's arraignment that she wanted him to pay for her daughter's death.
"He had the guts to say he's not guilty and meanwhile I had to bury my daughter because he didn't see her. . . . He couldn't even look at me in the eyes at least to try to say 'I'm sorry.' "
Nassau Assistant District Attorney Michael Bushwack said, while lobbying for $250,000 bail, that prosecutors believed Elardo had been drinking at two places before the crash.
Acting State Supreme Court Justice Jerald Carter ordered Elardo to surrender his passport but kept his bail at $50,000.
He cited an appellate court's decision Monday to reduce Elardo's original $1 million bail, along with his roots in the community and the lack of any higher charges in a grand jury's recent indictment.
DerGarabedian has said Elardo believed he hit a construction barrel and surrendered the minivan he'd been driving after contacting police within 10 hours of the crash after hearing news reports.
The attorney also said that the prosecution indicated Thursday that his client didn't run a red light.
DerGarabedian said Elardo, a divorced father with custody of his four children, was a decorated cop before retiring from a 13-year NYPD career with a disability pension.
"He's not even concerned about any prison time. He's just concerned about how he's going to live for the rest of his life, knowing that he took somebody off this earth," the lawyer said.
Elardo, who left jail Tuesday after making his reduced bail, declined to comment as he left court Thursday.
He's facing a maximum of 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison if found guilty on the felony charge. Prosecutors said more charges could follow as their probe continues.