Jurors convicted a motorist on aggravated vehicular homicide charges Wednesday in the 2015 deaths of a couple whose car prosecutors said he rammed at a red light in Lynbrook while speeding and high on marijuana.
Now Island Park native John Aniano, 27, is facing up to 8 and 1/3 to 25 years in prison in connection with the Jan. 12, 2015, crash.
The Sunrise Highway wreck killed Lynbrook residents Sharon Rene Long, 53, and John Jones, 54, and happened after prosecutors said Aniano blew past red lights in a 2004 Mercedes-Benz before slamming into the back of the victims’ 2005 Toyota Avalon while it was stopped at another light. The impact pushed the Toyota into oncoming traffic before it hit another car.
Prosecutor Katie Zizza told jurors during the Nassau County Court trial that Aniano drove so fast and recklessly, with marijuana impairment fueling his desire to speed, that death was “inevitable.”
But defense attorney Joseph Lo Piccolo had argued the crash wasn’t criminal, but an accident brought on by a mental health episode his client suffered and not his marijuana use. The Garden City lawyer said Aniano’s mental health issues caused him to “decompensate” after he hadn’t taken prescribed medication for about two days before the crash. He added that tests also showed later Aniano’s prescribed dosage level wasn’t enough to treat him. Aniano’s father previously has said that his son suffers from bipolar disorder.
Lo Piccolo said he will file a motion to overturn the verdict based on insufficient evidence and that Aniano will appeal the conviction. The jury also found Aniano guilty of manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter and both drug-impaired and reckless driving.
At the defense’s request, acting state Supreme Court Justice Meryl Berkowitz ordered Aniano to be put on suicide watch at Nassau’s jail as he awaits sentencing.
David Jones, the brother of victim John Jones, said he was pleased by the verdict but believed the crash could have been avoided if Aniano had stayed on his medication and not smoked marijuana.
“Everybody lost in this situation, not just my family and Sharon Long’s family. His family lost in this situation too,” said Jones, 57, of Massapequa.
Long’s sister Pamela Duncan, 48, of East Orange, New Jersey, said justice had been served, before adding: “But at the same time, maybe this young man can really get the help he needs to get.”
The victims were longtime companions who had an apartment close to the site of the crash, which happened on their way home from a grocery store, family said. The prosecution said Jones, the Toyota’s driver, and Long, his passenger, had marijuana in their blood too, but that it didn’t change that they were victims in this case.
Several jurors declined to comment while leaving court. Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a statement that Jones and Long “were random, innocent victims of a driver who had no regard for anyone’s life,” and local residents “should not have to fear for their lives on our roads.”