Maureen Lambert injected herself with heroin, probably within an hour of striking and killing an 11-year-old girl in a November hit-and-run accident in Smithtown, the Suffolk County district attorney said Monday as he announced a new grand jury indictment with a top charge of manslaughter.
Lambert, 21, drove a 2002 Chevy Avalanche that hit Courtney Sipes as the girl crossed East Main Street in Smithtown on Nov. 24, prosecutors said. Lambert now faces eight counts - including second-degree manslaughter, second-degree vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident. Previously, the top charge against Lambert, of Stony Brook, was leaving the scene of an accident, a lower-level felony.
"An 11-year-old girl's life has been taken away from her as a result of the actions of Ms. Lambert," said District Attorney Thomas Spota, adding that the prosecutor will be asking for the maximum jail time in the case. The top count, a C felony, brings a maximum sentence of 5 to 15 years in prison.
Yesterday, outside a Riverhead courtroom where Lambert later pleaded not guilty, Spota spoke of "the tragic effects of heroin not only on the individual using the heroin but that person's family and indeed in this instance we have yet another family tragically affected by Miss Lambert's use of heroin."
The accident took place in a community hard-hit by the heroin epidemic, and just over a mile away from a community meeting last year attended by about a thousand parents and residents who came to tell stories about the drug in their neighborhoods. Community groups and government officials responded by pushing educational anti-drug programs, police enforcement and promoting treatment options.
During the past three years, Nassau arrests on heroin-related charges jumped to 381 in 2009, a 350 percent increase over 2006. At the same time, Suffolk treatment centers had a fivefold increase in admissions of heroin-addicted adolescents.
Spota said Lambert purchased the heroin in a parking lot outside a pharmacy on Route 347 and Terry Road in Smithtown, then left there to find a place to shoot up the drug before driving on Main Street, where she hit Courtney.
Spota said the upgraded charges were presented to a grand jury after a cooperating witness told authorities he was in the Avalanche with Lambert when she used heroin shortly before the crash. Toxicology reports confirm Lambert had morphine in her system, a byproduct of heroin, prosecutors said.
Prosecutor Carl Borelli told Judge Stephen Braslow that an accident reconstruction estimated Lambert was driving 60 mph in a 30-mph zone, and Spota said forensics indicated she did not appear to brake. Her attorney, Legal Aid lawyer Donald Silverman, said the defense was still investigating the allegations.
Lambert's bail was upgraded from $200,000 cash to $500,000 cash, or $750,000 bond. She returned to jail after not posting bail.
Sipes' parents, Frederick Tracy and Lavena of Smithtown, attended the arraignment. They left the courtroom in tears, surrounded by family and friends.
With John Valenti
Grand jury indictment charges
- Second-degree manslaughter
- Second-degree vehicular manslaughter
- Leaving the scene of an accident
- Criminally negligent homicide
- Driving while ability impaired by drugs
- Third-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle
- Reckless driving
- Failure to maintain lane