It was clear something had been burdening John Pappias, his mother said.
"You could see he couldn't sleep. He'd cry during the night," she said. "Maybe it wasn't the right thing to do, but when you're scared, you don't always make good decisions."
Suffolk police arrested John Pappias, 46, on Saturday, charging him with leaving the scene of a fatal motor vehicle crash, a felony.
Detectives said he struck the worker, Victor Schultz, at 1:35 a.m. on Oct. 28 along Route 25A in Fort Salonga.
Pappias, who helps run his family's popular luncheonette, the Northport Sweet Shop, in Northport Village, pleaded not guilty Sunday in First District Court in Central Islip. Bail was set at $100,000 cash.
Debris at the crash scene revealed that police should target a vehicle with GMC parts made between 1995 and 2006. Anonymous tips and an analysis of thousands of vehicles then led to Pappias' black 1996 Chevrolet Tahoe, police said.
Schultz's family couldn't be reached for comment Sunday.
Georgia Pappias said she and her son felt deeply for them. "I can't imagine," she said of their loss.
Eric Naiburg, the suspect's attorney, said there was no indication his client had been under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of the crash, and that reports show Schultz may not have been wearing reflective clothing.
"The weather condition was, at best, foggy, and there could have been some rain," Naiburg said. "So I think there were contributing factors."
He declined to comment on why John Pappias didn't turn himself in sooner.
Georgia Pappias, 73, said while she couldn't explain her son's actions, that in a panic, "sometimes people do stupid things."
"He's a nice kid," she said. "He just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time."