DA: Passenger was really driver in house crash

A Brooklyn man pleaded not guilty Wednesday to an 11-count indictment charging him with driving drunk straight through the Huntington home of two elderly women -- only to claim his then-girlfriend was behind the wheel. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (Sept. 19, 2012)

Shortly after a red Mercedes-Benz convertible blasted through a Huntington home, authorities suspected that the person charged with driving while intoxicated wasn't the one behind the wheel.

More than three months later, Suffolk prosecutors have fixed the error, charging Daniel Sajewski, 23, of Brooklyn with an 11-count indictment and saying that Sophia Anderson, his then-girlfriend, was not behind the wheel during the May 28 crash.

"We now know what really happened that day," Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota said.

The DWI charge against Anderson, 21, of Brooklyn, will be dropped, although she will be arraigned Thursday on charges of obstructing governmental administration and conspiracy.

"We thought at the time the police had arrested the right person," Spota said. "It was a good faith arrest."

But after Anderson's attorney told Spota that he believed Sajewski was the real driver, investigators found evidence supporting that theory.

Witnesses saw Sajewski driving the car minutes before the crash, Spota said, and an X-ray technician at Huntington Hospital treating Anderson saw seat-belt marks on her right shoulder -- a sign she was a passenger.

Tests also would later show that it was Sajewski's blood on the driver's air bag, the district attorney said.

Sajewski pleaded not guilty Wednesday to misdemeanor DWI and felony charges of offering a false instrument for filing, making a sworn false statement and aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle.

Suffolk County Court Judge Martin Efman ordered Sajewski held without bail for violating probation on a 2009 drug charge.

Out on a beer run

After a night of drinking at the Lloyd Harbor home of Sajewski's parents, who were away, the couple and friends in a separate car drove to a 7-Eleven in Halesite to get more beer at about 4 a.m. Those friends later said Sajewski drove, said Assistant District Attorney Nancy Clifford.

On the way back, Clifford said Sajewski blew through a stop sign and blinking red light at the end of Browns Road and crashed through the home owned by sisters Helen Indiere, 96, and Virginia Bennert, 94.

The car narrowly missed the home's occupants, whose bedrooms were to the left of the front door. The car had entered just to the right of the door, police said at the time.

"He also took a very large pine tree from the front of that house and drove it -- like a battering ram -- through the back of the house," Clifford said.

In addition to the tree, the car took the sisters' gas stove and dining-room table out of the back of the house. Indiere came out of a bedroom to find Sajewski making a call on her phone in the remains of her kitchen.

"What are you doing here?" she said, according to Clifford. "He said, 'I can't talk to you right now. I've just been in an accident.' "

By then, Sajewski had already convinced Anderson to take the rap for him, Clifford said. He realized that with his history of drug and theft charges and his habit of ignoring probation, he was more certain to face jail time, the prosecutor said.

Lengthy record

Clifford said Sajewski has been arrested four times in recent years: in Suffolk for selling ecstasy and in Nassau for theft, both in 2009; and in Brooklyn for criminal possession of marijuana and driving with a suspended license, in 2010. In March, police arrested him in Brooklyn, again for criminal possession of marijuana.

At the crash scene, according to court documents, an officer asked Anderson, "Are you sure you want to take the rap for him?" Her response was: "Get out of my face."

Since the crash, Anderson has cooperated with investigators, giving her account of what happened.

Spota said Sajewski told Anderson after the wreck, "You have to do this for me. You have to say you were driving. I can't get in anymore trouble."

"This defendant's actions were reprehensible," Clifford said of Sajewski. "He left two elderly women homeless. His only known means of support is by selling drugs."

Defense attorney Carl Benincasa of Huntington said Sajewski "absolutely disputes the people's recitation of the facts."

Anderson's attorney, John LoTurco of Huntington, said he was glad Sajewski was held without bail. "He's unscrupulous," LoTurco said. "He's savvy. He belongs in jail."

Indiere's granddaughter, Gina Angevin, said Indiere and Bennert hope to be back in their home by Thanksgiving. "It's very stressful for them," she said.

Indiere, who attended a news conference with Spota Wednesday, said the twist in the case isn't a big surprise. "We all had doubts," she said.

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