LI man pleads guilty to 'unprecedented' BWI homicide charge

A Dix Hills man who was the first person in New York State to be charged with aggravated vehicular homicide in a boat crash pleaded guilty Monday afternoon. Videojournalist: Joseph D. Sullivan (Dec. 10, 2012)

A Dix Hills man who was the first person in New York State to be charged with aggravated vehicular homicide in a boat crash pleaded guilty Monday afternoon.

As the wife and mother of his victim cried in each other's arms in Suffolk County Court, Brian Andreski, 27, admitted that he was drunk when he recklessly crashed his Douglas Marine Skater speedboat into a fishing boat beneath the Robert Moses Causeway on June 23, killing Christopher Mannino, 39, of West Islip.

Mannino was standing on the rear deck of Robert Leigh Jr.'s boat as the vessel headed for a shark fishing tournament. In response to questions by Assistant District Attorney Nicholas Santomartino, Andreski said he was returning from a night of drinking "rocket fuel" -- cocktails made with 151 proof rum -- and about eight Bud Light beers. His boat launched through Leigh's boat, hitting Mannino in the head and chest.

In return for the plea, Suffolk County Court James Hudson promised to sentence Andreski to from 4 to 12 years in prison. As part of the deal, Andreski also agreed to make a public service video on the dangers of operating a boat while intoxicated, which will be shown as part of the safety classes boaters must take. Andreski also said he would testify before the State Legislature, if necessary, to help clarify the law on fatal boating while intoxicated cases.

Andreski was charged under a law normally used for driving while intoxicated cases, a tactic that Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota acknowledged was "novel" at the time. "It is an unprecedented charge," Spota said Monday.

In court, Hudson said if the case had gone to trial, defense attorney Eric Sills of Albany likely would have challenged whether a boat is a vehicle under the law and whether the Great South Bay is a highway.

With the plea, that challenge won't be made. Spota said he recommended a sentence of 5 to 15 years in prison, but he was otherwise satisfied with the deal. Spota said he had "no doubt" Andreski was remorseful.

"This case was a terrible tragedy for both sides involved," Sills said, adding that his client was "more than willing" to make the safety video and testify about the need to change the law.

Andreski faced a maximum of 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison.

The crash took place at 4:52 a.m. Leigh was heading east to Bay Shore while Andreski was coming west from Ocean Beach. Andreski should have stayed on the north side of the channel beneath the bridge, but he veered into Leigh's path at 60 to 80 mph in the pre-dawn darkness. Leigh tried to avoid Andreski, but couldn't get out of his way.

Andreski said Monday he drank at homes and bars all night, and on the boat while heading to Fire Island the day before.

"The number of boating while intoxicated cases is going up and up," Spota said, adding that he will ask the legislature to make sure vehicular homicide laws cover boating cases. "It deserves to be clearer."

In addition to aggravated vehicular homicide, Andreski also pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter and fifth-degree criminal tax fraud, for claiming the boat cost $700 when he actually paid $19,500.

Mannino's widow, Michelle Mannino, thanked Spota outside the courtroom, and then dissolved into tears as she tried to speak further.

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