A Setauket cardiologist, who prosecutors said left the scene of a crash that killed a Middle Island mother of three, slurred his speech, smelled of alcohol and "was unsteady on his feet" when found by police, according to court papers.
Thomas Stavola, 54, told officers he had a beer before the crash early Saturday morning that killed Monica Peterman, 45.
"I went to a bar. I was driving home . . . I veered off the road and hit a curb," Stavola said after the crash in Smithtown, according to court papers. "I got out of my car and started walking."
At Stavola's arraignment Sunday at First District Court in Central Islip, prosecutor Kim Carson said the Setauket man was found blocks away by Suffolk police after the crash.
Peterman, who authorities said was on her way to St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown where she worked as a dialysis technician, was pronounced dead at the same hospital, officials said.
Stavola was charged with one count of driving while intoxicated after prosecutors said that about 3:55 a.m. Saturday, his 2013 Audi A4 slammed into the driver's side door of Peterman's 2009 Mercedes-Benz at the intersection of East Main Street and Route 111.
Peterman was traveling west and Stavola's car north, authorities said. Stavola submitted to a chemical test at the hospital and the results are pending, Carson said Sunday.
Stavola's attorney, Stephen Wade LaMagna of Garden City, entered a plea of not guilty before Judge Philip Goglas.
A dozen friends and relatives of Peterman attended, including her three sons. At one point, a family friend helped a sobbing woman -- who later said Peterman was a mentor -- out of the courtroom.
Nearby, two officers stood several feet behind Stavola, whose wife, brother and three children sat on the opposite side of the courtroom from Peterman's relatives.
LaMagna said there is "no forensic evidence" that Stavola was drunk at the time of the crash.
An eyewitness saw Stavola leave the scene and other witnesses can place him as the driver, Carson told Goglas.
LaMagna declined to discuss the specifics of the case after the hearing but told Goglas in court that Stavola has strong community ties and no criminal record.
The cardiologist posted bail set by Goglas at $75,000 cash or $250,000 bond. He is due back in court on Friday.
Peterman's family filed out of the courtroom first. Stavola's wife and three children and his brother followed much later, and declined to comment.
Outside court, Peterman's family gathered around her oldest son, Bryan Greaves, 25, as he spoke to reporters.
"I'm hurt, I'm appalled and I'm asking that justice be served," Greaves said.
For past three years, Greaves said his mother had been taking night classes at Suffolk County Community College toward a nursing degree.
She became a dialysis technician 18 years ago after her father became ill, Greaves said.
"I want us to take this seriously," Greaves said. "I lost my mother. That was all that we had."
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story included the incorrect day of the next court appearance.