Thomas Costa pleads guilty in fatal jogger hit-run

Thomas Costa, of Coram, inside the courtroom at Thomas Costa, of Coram, inside the courtroom at Central Islip Criminal Court for arraignment in the fatal hit-and-run crash that killed Karen Benjamin who was jogging in Mount Sinai. (July 21, 2013) Photo Credit: James Carbone

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A Coram man told a Suffolk judge Monday that fleeing in a panic after hitting a woman jogging in Mount Sinai and leaving her fatally injured was the worst decision of his life and a "cowardly act."

Thomas Costa, 32, pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident with injuries. In return, State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho promised to sentence Costa to no more than 2 to 6 years in prison.

Assistant District Attorney Patricia Brosco recommended the maximum, 21/3 to 7 years in prison.

Camacho allowed Costa, who was on parole for burglary and drug possession convictions when he hit Karen Benjamin, 56, of Coram, to read a statement about the June 23 incident that left Benjamin in a coma until she died three weeks later.

"I should have done the right thing and stayed there," he said. "I will spend every day of the rest of my life haunted by what I've done."

Benjamin's family has been lobbying to increase the penalties for fatal hit-and-run accidents. They have endorsed Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota's effort to treat such incidents as harshly as second-degree manslaughter, which carries a maximum penalty of 5 to 15 years in prison.

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Her family could not be reached for comment Monday, but one of her daughters, Lindsay Benjamin, has gotten almost 3,900 electronic signatures on a petition at change.org seeking modifications in the law.

"Thomas Costa caused my mother to be thrown 15 feet into the air, and land very harshly on someone's front lawn, causing her to be in a coma for three and half weeks. She had broken legs, broken arms, broken face, broken ribs, compromised lungs, fixed eyes, and a brain that couldn't survive through the injuries that he had caused," Lindsay Benjamin wrote at change.org.

Defense attorney John Ebel of Amagansett said he supports their effort, saying too many people like his client think in the moment that it's better to flee than to face the consequences.

"He didn't aim his car at this woman, but sure enough he hit her," Ebel said. "This was a terrible confluence of events."

Camacho will sentence Costa on Jan. 18.

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