A Suffolk judge on Tuesday told a Queens man he was “morally reprehensible” for whisking away a friend who had drunkenly caused a crash that burned a father and his two children to death on the Southern State Parkway in July 2015 — and then reluctantly imposed a sentence of 1 to 3 years in prison.
Demetri Stewart, 24, of Jamaica, pleaded guilty last month to leaving the scene of a fatal accident and hindering prosecution. He admitted taking his friend, Oniel Sharpe Jr., 26, from the crash scene at Exit 41S in North Bay Shore.
Sharpe was convicted after an emotionally wrenching trial in February of aggravated vehicular homicide and other charges in the July 12, 2015, crash that killed Ancio Ostane, 37, and his children, Andy, 8, and Sephora, 4, all of St. Albans.
State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho told Stewart his actions were “beyond cowardice.”
“Members of the community have a moral obligation to look after each other. The choice they make tells a lot about them,” Camacho said. “I don’t understand how you can watch a family, including two little babies, burn to death.”
Stewart admitted that while the family was burning to death, he stopped at the scene, encouraged Sharpe and others to leave with him, and helped them avoid police until Stewart’s blood-alcohol level had dropped. Sharpe faces 12 to 36 years in prison when he is sentenced next week.
“I promised less than the maximum [to Stewart] because this has to end,” Camacho said of the case. “I don’t think anyone could have faced another trial.”
The sole survivor of the crash, Lucnie Bouaz-Ostane, wife of Ancio and mother of the children, remains so traumatized that she could not testify at Sharpe’s trial.
After leaving a drunken party, Sharpe crashed his mother’s BMW X5 at more than 80 mph into the back of the Ostane family’s Toyota RAV4. The Toyota exploded. Witnesses said the children screamed until they died while their frantic mother tried in vain to open the car doors.
Assistant District Attorney Maggie Bopp recommended the maximum sentence — 3 2⁄3 to 11 years in prison — for Stewart. She said cellphone video showed that while the Ostanes burned, “He’s overheard calmly asking if any of his friends wanted to go to the hospital.”
Stewart drove Sharpe and others to Franklin Hospital in Valley Stream — 24 miles away and past several other hospitals. None of the friends had any serious injuries.
Defense attorney Christopher Renfroe of Forest Hills said his client understands what he did and expressed condolences for the Ostane family.
Camacho then asked Stewart if he wanted to say anything.
“I just made a mistake,” Stewart said. “I want to turn my life around.”
Camacho seemed taken aback by Stewart’s brief remarks.
“Mistake,” Camacho said, repeating Stewart’s word. “Such a serious mischaracterization. There can be no doubt in my mind that you still don’t get it. You still don’t get it.”
CORRECTION: The driver who caused the crash that killed three people on the Southern State Parkway in July 2015 was Oniel Sharpe Jr. The driver was misidentified in a previous version of this story.