After holding up his quivering right arm and swearing to tell the truth, John Harnage Monday admitted in a Riverhead courtroom to "unfortunately, regrettably" killing a Smithtown mother of two while driving drunk and on Xanax.
Harnage, 44, of Smithtown pleaded guilty to a 14-count indictment that included the top charge of aggravated vehicular manslaughter in the April 2, 2009, death of Karen Naclerio-Negrin, 43. In exchange for his plea, Suffolk County Court Judge James F.X. Doyle promised to sentence him to a prison term of not more than 5 to 15 years.
Harnage had faced a maximum of 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison if convicted after a trial. He remains free on $300,000 bond until his June 9 sentencing date.
Harnage gave his plea as nearly two dozen members of Naclerio-Negrin's family watched. They had organized a fervent letter-writing campaign to Doyle asking him to show no mercy on Harnage.
Naclerio-Negrin's mother, Anna Naclerio, of Smithown, trembled and scowled from her courtroom seat while holding up a small photo of her daughter in her right palm.
Harnage, responding to questions from Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Carl Borelli, admitted to having "five or six" vodka drinks at two bars, after having taken Xanax anti-anxiety prescription pills earlier in the day. He then drove his Chevy Silverado pickup truck north on Route 25A in Smithtown. Harnage admitted to driving over the double yellow lines, into oncoming traffic.
"And there was another car coming in the southbound lane. Isn't that right?" Borelli asked.
"Yes sir," Harnage replied.
"And did you strike that car head on?" Borelli asked.
"Yes, sir," said Harnage.
Harnage's attorney, Raymond Perini of Hauppauge, said after the court appearance, "He never intended to hurt anyone," Perini said Harnage has been in counseling and remained sober since the accident. "He wanted to show his remorse so that everyone could begin the healing process. He's done everything he can."
But Naclerio-Negrin's family said nothing Harnage could do would be enough, especially considering that he had two previous convictions for driving with ability impaired by alcohol, in 1988 and 1999.
"He was reckless. He was selfish and he took my sister's life," said Lorraine Schwartz, of Smithown. "We'll never have her back and he needs to pay the consequences for that. . . . Our lives are destroyed."
Still weeping as she left the court building, Anna Naclerio said she felt the worst for her two grandchildren, ages 5 and 8.
"They're constantly talking about their mother," she said. "It's terrible."