Families of those killed by hit-and-run drivers joined Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota on Wednesday to plead for stiffer penalties for leaving the scene of a serious accident.
“The statistics of what’s happening here in Suffolk County are disturbing,” said Spota, who had made similar pleas before. “Clearly, more and more people are leaving the scene after killing people . . . or seriously injuring them.”
In March, the State Senate passed legislation to increase the maximum prison sentence from 7 to 15 years for a hit-and-run driver convicted of causing death or serious injury. Spota and the families want the State Assembly Transportation Committee to approve a similar measure, Assembly Bill 7785, to get the bill to the Assembly floor for a vote before the end of the legislative session.
Previous State Senate bills have stalled in the Assembly. Critics say some hit-and-run drivers panic and don’t deserve lengthy prison terms.
“It’s hard to come back here and continue to ask for something that just makes sense,” said Brooke Wayte, 27, whose father Scott Wayte was killed in 2012 while crossing the street in front of a Riverhead restaurant where he and his family celebrated his 50th birthday.
In 2013, Joseph Plummer was sentenced to 2 to 6 years in prison for killing Wayte. He is scheduled for a parole hearing in August.
Esther Dora, whose son was killed in October by an accused hit-and-run driver, said her father also was killed by a hit-and-run driver 40 years ago Wednesday in Hungary. That driver was given a lengthy prison term because European laws are “much, much different,” she said.
In March, Christopher Bacayon of West Babylon was indicted in the hit-and-run crash that killed Michael John Dora, 40, who was in a wheelchair.
“He was my caretaker, and today I am so empty,” said Esther Dora, 64, who is terminally ill.
More drivers have been charged with leaving the scene over the years in Suffolk.
Spota said prosecutors charged seven people with leaving the scene in 2005 and 24 in 2014. This year, authorities have prosecuted five people and are investigating three other cases, he said.
The families’ pleas came as Ruddy Velasquez-Morales, 27, of Bellport, was arraigned Wednesday in Suffolk County Court on an indictment charging him with leaving the scene of an incident involving a fatality without reporting, a felony.
Police said Velasquez-Morales struck a blind pedestrian, Warren Karstendick, 64, April 17 in East Patchogue. Velasquez-Morales, who surrendered to police April 21, remained free on a $150,000 bond. Velasquez-Morales’ attorney, Sanford Pirotin of Westbury, told News 12 Long Island: “There was a question of whether my client was aware that the accident occurred and whether someone was injured at a result of the accident.”
Surveillance video from a business shows Karstendick roll over the hood of an SUV police say was driven by Velasquez-Morales. The driver appears to look toward the victim before zooming out of camera range.