Spota: Increase sentences for hit-run drivers

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, outside

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, outside the Suffolk County Legislature Building in Hauppauge. (Credit: James Carbone)

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Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota again called Wednesday for the State Legislature to toughen the penalties for drivers in collisions who leave the scene.

Spota spoke on a day when three people were arraigned on indictments charging them with hit-and-run crimes, two of them resulting in fatalities. He first called for tougher penalties earlier this month at a sentencing in another such case.

"This is an epidemic that needs immediate legislative action," Spota said at a news conference in Riverhead.

In many such cases, the drivers are either drunk, drugged or driving with revoked licenses, and make the decision that it would be better to avoid more serious charges such as manslaughter or assault than to stay at the scene and help people who have been injured, Spota said.

"Defendants are beating the system," he said. "This really shouldn't be. They get treated more leniently for fleeing than for staying and rendering aid."

The solution, he said, is to make the penalties for leaving the scene of a fatal accident as tough as they are for manslaughter or aggravated vehicular homicide.

The maximum for leaving the scene of a fatal accident is 2 1/3 to 7 years in prison. The maximum for second-degree manslaughter is 5 to 15 years in prison; for aggravated vehicular homicide, it's 8 1/3 to 25 years.

The first of the three cases that resulted in indictments Wednesday took place Dec. 22. Alejandro Padilla, 24, of Bay Shore, is accused of hitting Zenaida Falcon's car from behind on Carleton Avenue in Central Islip early on Dec. 22 after drinking whiskey all night at a club, Spota said. He is charged with manslaughter. Because he was still intoxicated when police found him, prosecutors can show he was reckless in his conduct, Spota said.

Defense attorney Frank Tinari did not respond to a request for comment. State Supreme Court Justice Richard Ambro ordered Padilla held on bail of $200,000 cash or $100,000 bond.

Joseph Plummer, 48, of Middle Island, is accused of killing pedestrian Scott Wayte on the evening of Dec. 28 on Main Street in Riverhead. Spota said Plummer told police he was drinking vodka all day before the incident, but prosecutors have no other proof of that because Plummer left. He hid the vehicle under a tarp, put some wood splinters inside and was going to claim he'd hit a tree, Spota said.

State Supreme Court Justice Mark Cohen ordered Plummer held on bail of $1 million cash or $500,000 bond.

Kristofer Busching, 25, of North Babylon, is accused of deliberately hitting and seriously injuring pedestrian Ryan McCarthy on Dec. 31 in West Islip and then taking off because he had a "bad license." He is charged with first-degree assault.

Spota said Busching and co-defendants Carlo Caamano, 19, of Bay Shore, and Alicia Santamaria, 23, of Bay Shore, tried to cover up the incident by crashing the car in a wooded area.

Busching will be arraigned next week. His attorney, George Duncan of Central Islip, did not respond to a request for comment.

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