A St. James man told police he drank vodka before getting behind the wheel and fatally striking a pedestrian -- a physician who was walking near his Smithtown clinic, authorities say in court papers.
Timothy Burke, 43, told police the victim "came out of nowhere" Friday night on Route 111 in Smithtown just south of Maple Avenue, but he also admitted having a drink before the accident, according to court papers.
"I had a vodka drink at home and went to get Chinese food," he said.VideoPolice: Man struck, killed by drunk driver in SmithtownMore coverageComplete coverage: Suspected DWI crashes, arrests on LI
Burke pleaded not guilty Saturday to driving while intoxicated, a misdemeanor, in First District Court in Central Islip and was ordered held on $7,500 cash bail or $15,000 bond.
Dr. Kenneth Rich was crossing the two-lane highway about 8:30 p.m. when he was struck by Burke's 2006 Dodge Charger in the northbound lane. Rich, 51, was pronounced dead at the scene, authorities said.
Rich was known for his compassion and generosity, friends and family members said. He would leave apples and protein drinks on a neighbor's porch, and devoted extra time to his patients at the Long Island Osteo Relief Institute.
Brian Rich, 48, of Fort Collins, Colorado, said he and his brother grew up in Mount Vernon and Armonk in Westchester County.
"He was a very good listener -- that was one of the greatest things he probably brought to his practice," Brian Rich said.
Kenneth Rich graduated from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey; and Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, his brother said.
Police said in court papers that Burke's breath after the crash smelled of alcohol, and his eyes were bloodshot and glassy.
Suffolk County prosecutors said the charge could be upgraded pending the results of the investigation and the results of a blood sample taken from Burke.
Defense attorney William McDonald of Ronkonkama said Burke has no prior criminal record. He is a married father who wasn't working because he suffers from an immune disease, the attorney said.
McDonald said Friday night's heavy rain was a factor in the accident. "The driving conditions were atrocious with the torrential downpour, and we're certain that contributed to what happened," he said.
Neighbor Loretta Johnson, 40, said Rich hadn't been driving recently, preferring to ride his bicycle to and from the clinic, about a half-mile away. The doctor was a giving man, she said, bringing her healthy organic food to feed her cats, she said.
Employees at the clinic, which offers noninvasive treatments for knee arthritis and other conditions, recalled how Rich, who worked there about three years, paid the train fare for a patient from Brooklyn and would come in on his day off to see patients in need.
"It was as if he was sent here just to be generous," said clinic coordinator Daniella Rodriguez, 21, of Holbrook.
With Lauren R. Harrison and Laura Blasey