The Holbrook man charged with crashing into a row of Boy Scouts and killing a 12-year-old, was “drunk,” slurring his words and having difficulty walking, according to a longtime friend who played golf with Thomas Murphy that morning and saw him drinking vodka on the course.
Steven Meola, 58, of Astoria said Wednesday that Murphy, a friend of 35 years, drank nearly nonstop after arriving at the Swan Lake Golf Course in Manorville around 9 a.m. on Sept. 30, 2018.
Meola, who doesn’t drink, said Murphy, 60, and two other golfing buddies, first polished off a quarter of a bottle of vodka that one of the men had brought to the course. Murphy, he said, purchased more booze on the 16th hole.
“He was drunk,” said Meola of Murphy’s condition before he got into his car to leave. He added that Murphy had trouble removing his cleats at the end of the round.
Steven Politi, Murphy’s defense attorney, during cross-examination, responded by attacking Meola’s character, education and honesty. His questioning prompted repeated objections from prosecutors. State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho, who earlier chided Politi for his “tone,” eventually rose from his seat and erupted: “I am not going to lose control of this courtroom.”
Meola’s testimony highlighted the second day of Murphy’s Riverhead trial. The day also featured testimony from an assistant Boy Scout leader who described the chaotic moments after Murphy’s white Mercedes SUV collided with Troop 161, killing Andrew McMorris and injuring three others.
Politi contends his client was not drunk and that the crash was caused by a group of “poorly supervised” Scouts who wandered onto an unmarked section of David Terry Road during a 20-mile hike.
Murphy has pleaded not guilty to a 16-count indictment charging him with aggravated vehicular homicide, assault and driving while intoxicated. If convicted, he faces 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison.
Meola, an unemployed doorman with a revoked driver’s license for unpaid tickets and driving without insurance, told the jury of seven men and five women that he repeatedly offered to drive Murphy’s vehicle.
“I told him I should drive home because I didn’t think he was fit to drive,” Meola said.
Murphy rejected the offer and drove away, he said.
Meola, a passenger in a vehicle directly behind Murphy’s SUV, said he watched in horror as the Mercedes drifted to the right side of the road before colliding with the Scouts, about a mile and a half from the golf course.
Murphy refused a Breathalyzer test at the scene, prosecutors said, and when his blood was drawn hours later after a warrant was obtained, it registered 0.13 blood alcohol content. Forensic toxicologists estimate it was 0.19% at the time of the crash — more than double the legal standard of 0.08%.
Politi, who continues his cross examination Thursday, questioned Meola’s honesty, noting that he told a grand jury last year that Murphy was “impaired” but did not use the word “drunk.”
Earlier in the day, Robert Dougherty Jr. of Wading River, an assistant Scout master who accompanied the boys on the hike, described the crash scene.
“I looked up and saw Andrew McMorris in the air,” Dougherty said, his voice cracking. “And I saw boys lying in the grass.”
Dougherty, who was walking last in a row of 20 youths and adults, said he ran to the injured, passing Murphy as he got out of his vehicle. Dougherty said he heard Murphy say an expletive, followed by “I’m in trouble.”
Dougherty called 911 and found another Scout, Thomas Lane, lying immobile in the grass in his father’s arms with two broken legs. A bone in the back of the boy’s leg, he said, was pointing backward.
Murphy, pacing outside his vehicle, repeatedly asked the adults if the boys were breathing but did not offer assistance, Dougherty said.
“I told him to ‘shut up,’ “ said Dougherty, adding that Murphy appeared concerned only for himself. “His actions were so bizarre.”
Dougherty said the Scouts never ventured into traffic during the hike because they were instructed to “hug the grass” by staying on the shoulder far from the vehicles.
Politi pressed an alternative narrative, arguing the boys were allowed to change positions, wandering in and out of the roadway, with little adult supervision. Earlier in the hike, he said, the Scouts crossed another roadway in an unsafe manner that was not in accordance with Boy Scout regulations.
“I don’t believe they crossed the street in the appropriate fashion,” Politi told reporters after court. “You are supposed to do it in a specific order for safety. If you’re going to be lax on certain safety issues, certainly you’re going to be lax on others.”
Alisa Morris, Andrew’s mother, said the testimony is difficult to endure.
“My heart breaks every day over this immeasurable loss of my child. And today it breaks even more with these poor boys and men having to go through and relive this nightmare over and over again,” she said outside the courtroom. “I’m sick to my stomach of reliving this myself and I can only imagine what these poor people have to go through.”