Riverhead jury gets manslaughter crash case

Defendant Damian Dudkiewicz leaves the courtroom of Judge

Defendant Damian Dudkiewicz leaves the courtroom of Judge Mark Cohen. (Sept. 28, 2012) (Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan)

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A Suffolk jury is deciding whether a Lindenhurst man was racing on Montauk Highway just before he lost control of his car and killed four people.

If, after eight weeks of testimony and almost five hours of closing arguments, the jury decides he was racing, prosecutors say Damian Dudkiewicz, 28, should be convicted of four counts of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of second-degree assault.

His attorney, William Keahon of Hauppauge, argued that Dudkiewicz should be acquitted because there was no credible evidence of a race and that the Copiague crash was just an accident.

"Don't compound the tragedy of that event by convicting a man of crimes he did not commit," he told jurors in state Supreme Court Justice Mark Cohen's courtroom. He pointed at his client and continued, "Don't apportion blame on that fella."

But Assistant District Attorney Patricia Brosco said that's exactly where the blame belonged. She said Dudkiewicz was reckless when he engaged in an impromptu race with Michael Fredericks of Babylon, who will be tried later on the same charges.

"Some people think they own the road," Brosco said. "They think the roadway is a place to play."

Whether he was racing or not, both sides agree Dudkiewicz crashed after he swerved right to avoid a car that turned in front of him. His car hit the curb, spun and crashed into a minivan coming the other way.

Killed were a passenger in the minivan, Teresa Zuardo, 69, of Brooklyn; and Dudkiewicz's passengers: Grzegorz Osko, 29; his wife, Kamila Boriczka Osko, 26; and Dudkiewicz's pregnant fiancee, Magda Siwik, 30, all of Lindenhurst.

Brosco said the evidence of racing comes from the testimony of two people in a car driving behind Dudkiewicz and Fredericks, along with a statement police say the defendant signed in which a race is described.

"It's all you need, plus the words of the defendant," she said.

Those witnesses say Fredericks and Dudkiewicz revved their engines at a stop light before taking off at high speed heading east on Montauk Highway, weaving in and out of traffic. When the car turned in front of Dudkiewicz, Brosco said he refused to brake.

"At that point, the defendant made a deadly decision, which is to go right," she said.

But Keahon said his client had no choice but to make an emergency maneuver to avoid a crash. He said the witnesses who described them racing were not credible, noting their accounts got steadily more detailed and harrowing each time they talked to police or testified in court.

Keahon said his client and the friends in his car were returning home from the beach at Lake Ronkonkoma and had just gotten food at Taco Bell and Checkers.

"You really think this guy is going to engage in a high-speed race with everyone juggling their food, his two friends in the backseat, his pregnant fiancee next to him?" Keahon said, noting that no one else saw a race. "There's one car, with two people in it, that says this happened. That's it."

Keahon said Dudkiewicz never signed an incriminating statement in the hospital. He said medical records indicate his client was asleep when police say that happened. Brosco said the idea that a detective would falsify a statement was not believable.

Both attorneys also used a surveillance tape from a Spiffy Lube, four-tenths of a mile from the crash scene, to bolster their cases.

Keahon said the tape shows the cars passing by at least three minutes before the crash.

"We're missing two minutes," Keahon said, suggesting his client drove slightly above the 40-mph speed limit and stopped for another light. "He would have been in Babylon if he was going 70 mph. It's physically impossible."

Brosco said the shop's clock had to have been inaccurate. If not, she said Dudkiewicz "would have had to have been going 5 mph. We know that didn't happen."

The jury resumes deliberating Friday morning.

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