The young driver who admitted responsibility in the Farmingdale drag-race deaths of five other teenagers avoided a prison sentence Friday, when a judge gave him a penalty aimed at rehabilitation that some relatives of the victims decried as too lenient.
Acting State Supreme Court Justice Terence Murphy sentenced Cory Gloe, 19, of Farmingdale, to 6 months in jail and five years of probation while also granting him a youthful offender status that will seal his criminal record.
“It’s designed to get him scared straight, not to transform him into another institutionalized convict,” Murphy said.
A prison sentence, he added, would “do nothing to keep the victims’ memories alive,” and Gloe now will get a chance to share his story in the hope of keeping other teenagers from making the same mistake.
Gloe pledged to do so, saying he was haunted by flashbacks of the May 10, 2014 wreck.
Killed were: Tristan Reichle, 17; Jesse Romero, 18; Carly Lonnborg, 14; Noah Francis, 15; and Cody Talanian, 17. The friends, all of whom had attended Farmingdale High School then or in the past, became known after the tragedy as the “Farmingdale Five.”
“If I could go back and trade places with them I would,” Gloe said, adding: “I pray for my friends and their families every day.”
The teenager said he takes “full responsibility” for his actions. “I will spend my life teaching people to avoid the same situation,” he said.
Emotions poured forth in a Mineola courtroom awash with tears as victims’ family members shared glimpses of living with the heartbreak of losing young people who’d never fulfill their promise.
One of Lonnborg’s uncles stormed out when he realized the judge was going to grant youthful offender status to Gloe.
“How many passes will Mr. Gloe receive?” Carly’s mother, Sandy Lonnborg, asked the judge earlier.
Gloe could have faced up to 22 years in prison. But the judge stuck to his sentencing commitment from March 10 when Gloe pleaded guilty to a 17-count indictment that included five counts of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.
Murphy did so despite Gloe’s March 15 arrest on a felony weapon count — a charge later dismissed at prosecutors’ request due to lack of proof — along with the discovery of Instagram posts mocking police and the justice system.
Prosecutors on Friday asked for 1 to 3 years in prison and opposed youthful offender status, saying they’d recommended a year behind bars and 5 years’ probation before his new arrest and posts.
Nassau Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Dellinger said Gloe had “repeatedly chosen wrong” and showed a lack of remorse along with a disregard for the consequences of his actions and for authority.
Prosecutors said the crash happened after Gloe goaded Reichle into a street race around midnight at Route 110 and Conklin Street, and Reichle lost control of his car and crashed into a sport utility vehicle in oncoming traffic.
The collision killed everyone in Reichle’s 2001 Nissan Sentra and seriously injured the SUV’s two occupants, Mingaila and Gloriajean Milas, who were in town for a baby shower.
Authorities said Gloe’s 2008 Toyota Scion never came into contact with Reichle’s car or the SUV.
The defense argued the crash was the fault of Reichle, who had a blood-alcohol level of 0.07 percent. Authorities said Reichle, as a 17-year-old driver, was legally impaired by law and also would have faced charges if he’d survived.
Riechle’s mother, Alejandra, told the judge that if her son — whom she described as selfless, genuine and truthful — had lived, he wouldn’t have fled the scene as Gloe did.
Romero’s father, Emilio, said in a statement prosecutor Christopher Casa read in court that his late son — a kind, humble soul who loved to swim at the beach and play guitar — “was my heart.”
“I am living without this part and it is killing me inside,” he added.
Francis’ sister, Celeste Tziamihas, spoke of becoming his guardian after they lost both parents. She said he was a boy with a magnetic personality who she loved “as if he were my child.”
Lonnborg’s mother called her daughter an honest, kind, empathetic person whose “true beauty radiated from the inside out.” She also described pain that came with the realization her daughter will miss milestones including a prom, graduation, a first car, a first job, marriage and motherhood.
“He should be sentenced as an adult,” she said of Gloe. “Our children did not get a second chance.”
But defense attorney Stephen LaMagna of Garden City said Gloe’s actions “were borne from youthful ignorance” and not those of a hardened criminal.
The judge stressed Gloe will face up to 4 years in prison if he violates probation. But relatives of some of the victims later expressed disappointment and anger about the sentence, particularly Gloe’s youthful offender status.
“I felt like the judge contradicted himself, saying that he wanted to send a message to children to not drive recklessly and then to give such a small sentence, I feel like it’s the opposite,” said Francis’ sister.
Sandy Lonnborg said she hopes the case sent a message to young people that street racing is illegal.
Of Gloe, she said: “Let’s hope that now something rings true to him and that he does change his path.”