A Suffolk judge ruled Thursday that evidence of a Queens man’s intoxication and his statement to police will be admissible when he stands trial in the fiery deaths of a man and two of his children last year on the Southern State Parkway.
State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho’s ruling is the last step before jury selection begins next month in the case against Oniel Sharpe Jr., who is charged with aggravated vehicular homicide, leaving the scene of a fatal accident, driving while intoxicated and other crimes.
Sharpe, 25, of Springfield Gardens, is accused of driving drunk at high speed in the early hours of July 12, 2015, and hitting the back of a Toyota RAV4, which caught fire.
The Toyota driver, Ancio Ostane, 37, and his children — Andy, 8, and Sephora, 4 — of St. Albans, Queens, couldn’t escape. Lucnie Bouaz-Ostane, the victims’ wife and mother, survived, only to watch her family die in their burning car at Exit 41S.
Suffolk prosecutors say Sharpe, who was driving a BMW sport utility vehicle, fled the scene with friends and disappeared for almost four hours before he showed up at his mother’s house in Rockville Centre.
New York State Police questioned him briefly there about what happened before taking him to their barracks in Valley Stream, where they conducted a breath test. That test showed a blood-alcohol level of 0.06 percent. That’s under the legal threshold of 0.08 percent, but police established it would have been 0.12 percent at the time of the crash.
At a pretrial hearing in Central Islip, defense attorney Jonathan Manley of Hauppauge argued that both the police questioning and the breath test were done in violation of his client’s rights. Sharpe was questioned as soon as he arrived in Rockville Centre, before he was read his Miranda rights. Manley said his client was in custody then.
“He was directed; he was ordered to that location by the police,” Manley said Thursday. “This was not a request.”
Manley argued the breath test was improper because a trooper obtained his consent after telling him, falsely, that he had been charged with DWI and telling him his license would be revoked if he refused. That amounted to improper coercion, he argued.
Assistant District Attorney Patricia Brosco said the breath test was proper because even if Sharpe had not yet been formally charged with DWI, he was under arrest for leaving the scene of the crash.
“Where was he for four hours?” Brosco said. “He was waiting to have that alcohol dissipate.”
Sharpe shouldn’t benefit by actively avoiding arrest, she argued. Camacho agreed.
Because Sharpe was already in custody when he was asked to take the breath test, it was “not coercive in these circumstances,” Camacho said.
He also ruled that the initial questioning of Sharpe when he arrived in Rockville Centre was not an in-custody interrogation, so Miranda rights were not yet necessary. Police testified he admitted leaving the scene and shrugged when asked why he did that.