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Long IslandCrime

Motorist testifies in fatal wrong-way case: ‘It was headlights. In my lane.’

Scene of a fatal crash on Sunrise Highway

Scene of a fatal crash on Sunrise Highway in Shirley on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015. Christopher O Brien, of Sound Beach, is on trial in Central Islip, charged with second-degree murder in the fatal wrong-way crash. Credit: James Carbone

Motorists testified Wednesday that they were stunned one early December morning to see something looming out of the fog and darkness while heading west on Sunrise Highway — oncoming headlights.

The headlights belonged to an Audi driven by Christopher O’Brien, 55, of Sound Beach. He is on trial in Central Islip, charged with second-degree murder and other crimes in the death of Thomas D’Eletto, 57, a project manager going from his home in Aquebogue to work in Nassau County on Dec. 23, 2015.

Keith Van Emmerik testified he was going to work at the Jericho school district in his Ram truck, when all of a sudden the woman in the car next to him slammed on the brakes. She was in the left lane, he said during questioning by Assistant District Attorney Robert Spataro.

“I thought maybe it was a deer in the road, but it was headlights. In my lane,” Van Emmerik said.

He tried to move out of the way, but he couldn’t — he said as he veered toward the shoulder, so did the wrong-way driver. Van Emmerik said he ended up half on the grass as the Audi passed him, partially on the shoulder.

Spataro played two 911 calls from motorists who saw the crash between O’Brien and D’Eletto.

“I can’t even imagine they survived, it was such a horrible thing,” one woman said, crying.

Prosecutors said O’Brien was drunk and high on cocaine when he drove into oncoming traffic on Mill Road and Sills Road in the Medford area before heading east in the westbound lanes of Sunrise Highway. The murder charge in a vehicular case is rare. O’Brien has waived his right to a jury and is on trial in front of state Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho.

Other motorists who testified did not report apparent targeting as described by Van Emmerik.

John Sharun testified he was commuting from Shirley to his job in Ronkonkoma when he noticed something odd.

“In front of me, there was a vehicle that appeared to have reverse lights on,” he said. “But they kept getting closer, so I knew they weren’t reverse lights.”

He said he veered out of the left lane onto the median, beeping his horn and flashing his lights at the oncoming driver.

“It didn’t look like he tracked me,” he said during questioning by defense attorney Scott Gross of Hauppauge. “He just stayed in the left lane.”

Jeff Hanlon testified that he was heading east to go to work in Riverhead when he saw the Audi going the same way on the other side of the highway. He said he was going 60 mph and tried to catch up to it, but the Audi was going too fast.

Hanlon said he slowed down when the Audi seemed to veer onto the median. The next time he saw it, it had collided with D’Eletto’s Toyota.

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