Dozens of family members and supporters of a 5-year-old boy killed by a driver impaired by prescription drugs broke into sobs in a crowded Riverhead courtroom Monday as the child's mother showed a Suffolk judge the baby blue handprints the hospital made after he died.
John Thomas Gaffney was killed Dec. 10, 2011, after Steven Kinalis' car shoved the family's pickup truck off Sunrise Highway and into a tree in Mastic at high speed. The Gaffneys were on their way east to get a Christmas tree.
"Instead of a Christmas tree, we got a farewell box from the hospital," Teri Gaffney of West Islip said, taking her son's handprints from the box to show the courtroom. "This is what we got instead of a Christmas tree. This is all that's left."
Suffolk County Court Judge James Hudson sentenced Kinalis, 32, of Ronkonkoma to 5 1/2 to 16 1/2 years in prison, as part of a plea deal reached last month with the Suffolk district attorney's office. He had faced a maximum of 8 1/3 to 25 years. Because he has already spent two years in jail, he will be eligible for parole in 3 and a half years.
It is one of the first convictions for aggravated vehicular homicide based solely on impairment by prescription drugs, said Assistant District Attorney Patricia Brosco. Kinalis was going more than 100 mph while on oxycodone, Xanax and other drugs when he hit the Gaffneys.
Before Hudson imposed the sentence -- and before a tearful Kinalis told the Gaffneys he was "very sorry for killing your boy" -- Teri Gaffney, for more than a half hour, shared her anguish, pain and anger. Many, including Kinalis' family members, cried along with her as she spoke. Kinalis hung his head.
"My husband never even got the chance to get out of your way," she told Kinalis. "You flipped us off the road like so much garbage."
Although she had her seat belt on, her head cracked the windshield, she said. Her daughter Emma, 7 at the time, was rendered unconscious. But she knew John's injuries were worse -- not only because she is a registered nurse specializing in head and spine injuries, but because emergency medical technicians at the scene were in tears.She said she begged them to tell her John was OK. "No one would say those words to me," she said.
One person who spoke to her, though, was Kinalis.
"You lied to my face: 'Sorry. I lost control of my car. My tires blew.' " Gaffney quoted Kinalis as telling her. "You told me, 'What the ------ is the problem? I didn't do anything wrong.' "
She described watching the heart monitor after her son's life support was turned off in the hospital and seeing his heartbeat stop.
"I didn't want him to be scared," she said. "He was just a little boy."
Earlier, John's kindergarten teacher at Oquenock Elementary School in West Islip, Janis Howard, told Hudson that the boy's death had devastated her class."I had to tell the class that their friend, their leader, would never come back and sit in his little green chair," she said. "Where is the fairness here? The whole world was robbed of the future John Gaffney."
"Your crime, Mr. Kinalis, fills all society, all decent people, with horror," Hudson said. "Those that harm children are outcasts of society."
Brosco berated Kinalis for doctor shopping to feed to his prescription pill habit. "You are not the victim of doctors, Mr. Kinalis," she said.
Kinalis gave a tearful apology, which Teri Gaffney later rejected as insincere.
"I killed your boy," he said. "Every day, I feel like a murderer."
"You are," one of the many Gaffney supporters said in court.
"This will haunt me until the day I die," he said. "It's not fair for the Gaffney family to be paying for my sins."
Words of pain
Teri Gaffney (the mother of John Thomas Gaffney, who was killed in the accident):
"Steven Kinalis, we wish Dec. 10, 2011 had never happened. I wish I'd gotten stuck at work, so we could have left later. The one thing we wish the most is that we'd never met you."
"It was the first time in my life as a mom that I felt I'd let them [her three children] down."
"You hurt him so bad we couldn't even help other people by donating his organs. My son is dead because of you.'"Kevin [her husband] and I are good parents. How did this happen?"
"I found out you were high on pills. I took care of people like you. I was a great nurse, and this is our payback? A druggie killing our son."
"To this day, you still don't care that you killed my son. You will always be known as a child killer."
"You have never shown any remorse. All you have shown is arrogance. You should have been the one to die that day, not my son. The world would have been better for it."
Steven Kinalis(the defendant):
"If I'd been able to react, I'd have driven into the tree."
"I was weak, selfish, in pain. I was addicted. I had a problem. There's no excuse."
"I want to trade his life for mine. For me to hurt a human being, it's very hard to live with."
"I don't understand the pain I caused, and I don't know if I ever will. I pray that he didn't suffer. He was just a baby. I'm very sorry. I'm very sorry for killing your boy. I'm sorry this took two years. And I'm sorry I can't bring him back."