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Coram man pleads guilty in crash that killed friend

Stephan Harbison of Coram is led out of

Stephan Harbison of Coram is led out of the First Precinct in West Babylon for arraignment in Central Islip on Saturday, April 4, 2015. Credit: Ed Betz

A Coram man admitted Tuesday in court that he killed a friend while driving drunk in January 2015.

Stephan Harbison, 29, pleaded guilty in Central Islip to first-degree vehicular manslaughter and driving while intoxicated. In return for the plea, state Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho promised to sentence Harbison to 3 to 6 years in prison on Jan. 11.

Harbison admitted during questioning by Camacho that his blood-alcohol level was 0.15 percent — nearly twice the legal standard of 0.08 percent — when he crashed at high speed on Straight Path in Deer Park, killing Hamzah Abdul-Hakim, 28, of Wyandanch, when the 2003 Infiniti hit a tree.

The plea came 12 days after Harbison vowed to not accept a plea deal or to go to trial. At that earlier court appearance, Camacho explained to Harbison that those were his only two options. He urged Harbison, who had threatened or fired three earlier defense attorneys, to talk to his latest one, Craig McElwee of Hauppauge.

“Mr. McElwee is one of the best attorneys in Suffolk County,” Camacho told Harbison then. “He is a great lawyer. You’re not going to do better.”

Camacho said McElwee would be the last lawyer he would appoint in the case. “I’m running out of lawyers to appoint,” Camacho said.

“Objection, your honor,” Harbison replied. “I will not talk to Mr. McElwee about anything.”

Harbison reconsidered by last weekend, especially after McElwee negotiated a more favorable plea deal. Prosecutors earlier had recommended a sentence of 5 to 10 years.

McElwee said one of his client’s concerns was the impact a longer sentence would have on various self-improvement programs he’s been taking in jail. He feels the programs will help him be a better member of society, McElwee said.

“I’m trying to better myself,” Harbison told Camacho.

Assistant District Attorney Ray Varuolo said the Abdul-Hakim family is “on board” with the more lenient plea deal.

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