A Coram man in jail on a parole violation was charged Wednesday in connection with the death of a jogger who was taken off life support in July, three weeks after she was struck in Mount Sinai by a car that left the scene.
Thomas Costa, 31, was arraigned on charges of speeding and leaving the scene of an incident after authorities said he was behind the wheel of a white 2001 BMW June 23 when it struck Karen Benjamin, a nurse's assistant from Coram and the mother of two grown daughters. Benjamin slipped into a coma from which she never emerged, said her brother, Bob Freedman of Scarsdale.
Costa, who had been sent back to jail in July for violating parole in a burglary and drug possession case, pleaded not guilty Wednesday at his arraignment in First District Court in Central Islip. He was held pending a bail hearing on Aug. 6.
Officials with the Suffolk district attorney's office did not say why they did not file more serious charges against Costa.
His lawyer, John Ebel of Amagansett, said the parolee "did not commit any crimes of any type."
Benjamin was jogging at about 11 a.m. June 23, just west of Mount Sinai-Coram Road, when she was struck by a vehicle that then left the scene, authorities said. With few clues beyond a witness' partial description of a BMW, Suffolk police investigators faced a challenging task: finding the BMW amid the thousands in Long Island.
Eventually, investigators narrowed the list to 1,869 BMW owners, said Robert Clifford, spokesman for District Attorney Thomas Spota. Investigators went door to door, starting in Mount Sinai, to question the BMW owners when they came to Costa's parents' house.
They saw a white 2001 BMW with a smashed windshield parked in the rear yard, Clifford said. DNA tests determined that blood found on the outside of the BMW matched Benjamin's blood and a car mirror with a serial number left at the crash site was traced to the vehicle, he said.
"It was the victim, Karen Benjamin, who told us who her killer was," Spota said. The BMW belonged to Costa's father, authorities said.
Costa parked the car at his parents' home about 15 minutes after the crash and told investigators "he was at a night club in Patchogue when the car was vandalized," Clifford said.
Benjamin was taken off life support July 17 after suffering severe head injuries, facial and jaw fractures and undergoing seven surgeries, Freedman said. "She fought it, but it just wasn't enough," he said.