A Nassau judge Friday sentenced a Great Neck man to up to four years behind bars for his role in the 2017 death of a 20-year-old who jumped onto his car’s hood during an argument and suffered fatal injuries after his ejection blocks later.
The sentencing of Christian Arevalo, 21, followed a Nassau jury’s November verdict convicting him of criminally negligent homicide and acquitting him of more serious charges including murder and manslaughter.
"Nothing less than the maximum will suffice for justice in this case," acting state Supreme Court Justice William O'Brien said before sentencing Arevalo to 16 months to 4 years in prison — the top penalty under his single-count conviction.
Prosecutors had alleged Arevalo launched Corey Howell onto a sidewalk after driving with him on his mother’s 2013 Nissan Altima for more than a mile and reaching speeds of 60 mph.
They alleged the crash on Cumberland Avenue in Great Neck happened after Arevalo zig-zagged to try to throw Howell off his car and then slammed on the Altima’s brakes.
Prosecutors said the braking caused Howell’s brother, who was following the Altima in a 2017 Cadillac, to crash into the Altima before the Altima went up on a lawn and hit a curb – throwing the victim off.
Howell suffered head, neck and spine injuries in the crash shortly before 9 p.m. on Aug. 11, 2017 and died hours later, according to authorities.
The prosecution alleged after Arevalo’s arraignment that Howell jumped onto the Altima’s hood to avoid being hit after Arevalo drove toward him during their argument.
But the defense contended then that Howell and others had attacked Arevalo and his girlfriend before Howell jumped on Arevalo’s car so he could break the windshield and continue the attack.
"We said from the beginning this was never murder. It's not even manslaughter. All those charges were dismissed by the jury," Arevalo's trial attorney William Kephart said after Friday's sentencing.
Arevalo, the lawyer added, "was attempting to flee attack himself and unfortunately this is how things played out."
Prosecutor Katie Zizza asked the judge to impose the top sentence Friday. She said Arevalo's dangerous decision caused Howell's death, detailed Arevalo's arrest history and added that he was recorded on a jail call saying he was "laughing" because the victim was dead and he was alive.
Corey Howell's mother, Maxine Howell, sobbed as she addressed the judge. She told him the death of the eighth-born of her nine children was due to Arevalo's reckless disregard for his life and that it had transformed her into a "sad" and "hopeless" mother.
"He should be behind bars, but unfortunately will receive a slap on the wrist," the woman said as she wept.
Arevalo’s 2019 trial followed a May appellate court decision reinstating the murder charge against Arevalo that a different Nassau judge previously threw out.
Acting state Supreme Court Justice Christopher Quinn tossed that charge and others in 2018, dismissing a grand jury’s indictment against Arevalo after finding unethical action by Zizza tainted the proceeding that led to the true bill.
Quinn found the grand jury never heard about a police report that said the vehicle Howell’s brother was driving “was chasing after” Arevalo’s vehicle and “in a road rage” before Howell was ejected.
That report, according to Quinn, also said that the officer who wrote it saw no signs Arevalo – who also was indicted on charges related to drugged driving – was impaired.
But the Nassau District Attorney’s Office criticized Quinn’s decision, saying “the court’s unfounded accusations regarding the ethics of a trusted and respected prosecutor stem from its misapprehension of the facts and the law.”
The appellate ruling that restored the indictment against Arevalo found Zizza “was not obligated” to present evidence to the grand jury that Arevalo claimed was favorable to his defense.
The higher court also found the matter was “not one of those rare cases demanding dismissal of the indictment” due to prosecutorial misconduct.
Kephart said Friday that the prosecution agreed to dismiss three charges against his client that involved allegations Arevalo was drug-impaired at the time of the crash, and the jury never considered them.
Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas called for legislative changes after Arevalo’s sentencing, saying his “unconscionable recklessness” cost Howell his life.
“Though he received the maximum sentence allowed by law, this case underscores the need to strengthen the penalties for criminally negligent homicide,” she said in a statement.