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LI man surrenders to begin prison term in high-speed fatal LIE crash

Jonnathan Santos surrendered in court on Wednesday. He

Jonnathan Santos surrendered in court on Wednesday. He was sentenced to 3 to 9 years in prison after his guilty plea to manslaughter and driving while impaired by alcohol and drugs. Credit: NCPD

A former Manhasset man told a judge Wednesday he was "young and stupid" when he caused a Long Island Expressway crash that killed his best friend after racing another driver at a speed that prosecutors said eclipsed 120 mph.

Jonnathan Santos, now 22, surrendered in Nassau County Court to go to prison for 3 to 9 years after his October guilty plea to manslaughter and driving while impaired by alcohol and drugs.

He took a deep breath before speaking of Gianfranco Peralta, his childhood friend from Manhasset who was 19 when he died in the Feb. 23, 2017, collision on the eastbound LIE in Woodbury.

“I know that nothing that I say or do will bring him back,” Santos told acting State Supreme Court Justice Francis Ricigliano. “I was young and stupid at the time of the accident and it cost the life of my best friend.”

The Nassau district attorney’s office has said Peralta, a backseat passenger in Santos’ 2015 BMW 528i, was ejected from the car before his body hit a guardrail and was cut in half.

Prosecutor Stephanie Dellinger told the judge Wednesday that Santos made a “brazen decision to treat the Long Island Expressway like his own personal racetrack” while competitively speeding with a co-defendant whose actions also caused the victim’s “tragic death.”

State records show the other driver, Areefeen Hirji, 22, of Muttontown, is now serving a prison sentence of 3½ to 10½ years in prison.

In December, a Nassau jury found Hirji guilty of charges including manslaughter and leaving the scene of the fatal crash after a trial in which his attorney contended Hirji was the victim of Santos’ road rage, and speeding to escape as Santos chased him.

But prosecutors said at Hirji’s trial that he and Santos were strangers who got into an impromptu race on the LIE around midnight before a collision between the BMW and the 2017 Honda Accord that Hirji was driving caused the BMW to spin out and hit the guardrail and a pickup truck.

Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a statement Wednesday that Peralta was "a young man with his entire life in front of him" who was "taken from his family and friends because of these defendants' reckless actions."

Peralta’s father, mother and sister were in court as prosecutor Katie Zizza read a statement from them that called their loved one’s death “a disaster that will last until eternity.”

“No one should be taken away the way the missing member of our family has been … at such a young age and while having a whole future in front of him,” their statement added.

The judge sentenced Santos under a plea bargain the defense and prosecution had negotiated.

“I believe you are truly sorry for your actions,” Ricigliano told Santos. “Nevertheless, your actions on that evening were also reprehensible. … Because of those actions, a young man is gone.”

Santos’ attorney, Vincent Bianco, finished reading his client’s statement aloud in court when Santos couldn’t continue.

It spoke of how he had been going to college, “staying clean” and working since the crash.

“I’m trying to be a father to my daughter that I never had, but I can never underestimate the loss. I can only imagine the pain the family is going through now," the statement added.

The victim’s family left court later without commenting.

Bianco said after court he believed his client, who lost his father in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, “is going to be judged by probably the worst moment in his life.”

But he said Santos “has always expressed remorse” for the Peralta family’s loss and “really hopes that they can at one point forgive him.”

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