A Central Islip man never intended to kill anyone when he set fire to his ex-girlfriend's car last year, but when that fire spread to the family's home, her brother died. And for that the man was sentenced Monday to 21 years in prison.
Ricardo Romero Flores, 24, had pleaded guilty to second-degree attempted murder and third-degree arson.
"This could have been much worse," Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Glenn Kurtzrock said, noting there were eight adults -- including victim William Hernandez, 22 -- and five children in the Brentwood house. "We believe this is fair, based on the facts of the case."
The facts weren't in dispute, both sides agree. Romero Flores was upset that Yessica Hernandez, 24, his ex-girlfriend and mother of his infant son, had begun dating another man. He had already punched out the rear window of her car when, the day before the fire, he went drinking with William Hernandez.
"The gentleman that lost his life is actually this man's best friend," said defense attorney Joseph Hanshe of Sayville.
Romero Flores told Hernandez he was going to set his sister's car on fire, and Hernandez told him it would be a bad idea and that he'd get in trouble. But early on Aug. 28, 2011, Romero Flores crawled in through the window he'd broken and set the car's interior on fire.
The fire then spread from the car to the house.
"He is absolutely remorseful," Hanshe said of his client. "The people in the house were actually his family members. His own son was in there."
Before imposing the sentence, State Supreme Court Justice Mark Cohen told Romero Flores, "This case is a tragedy. Your actions caused the most serious result possible. I do appreciate that you are remorseful. Still, a person died."
Hernandez's family watched the sentencing but did not comment.
Afterward, Hanshe said the deal was the best possible outcome after his client had been charged with felony murder. He said a more appropriate charge in a case like this would have been criminally negligent homicide, which carries a top sentence of 21/3 to 7 years in prison.
Kurtzrock said the victim's family was satisfied with the outcome and happy to have avoided having to sit through a trial.