DWI crash victim Steven Strauss of Long Beach appears in...

DWI crash victim Steven Strauss of Long Beach appears in Nassau County Court in Mineola on Monday. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A Nassau County judge sentenced a Bellmore man who pleaded guilty to a 2021 drunken driving crash in Long Beach that left one victim without his right leg to up to 12 years in prison.

Robert O’Brien, 29, pleaded guilty in December before Judge Teresa Corrigan to aggravated vehicular assault, driving while intoxicated, leaving the scene of an accident with serious physical injury and second-degree assault.

Assistant District Attorney Katie Zizza said on Monday that O’Brien had been previously charged with DWI in 2014 and urged Corrigan to sentence the defendant who served a sentence of probation in the previous case to 5 to 15 years in prison. 

Victim Steven Strauss, of Long Beach, said he spent more than six months in hospitals and a rehabilitation center after the drunken driving crash that occurred as he and his wife were awaiting the birth of their first grandchild. He suffered broken ribs and his right leg was amputated, and he was in a medically induced coma for two months.

“Robert O’Brien is just another example of the tragedies that happen when people choose to drink and drive,” Nassau District Attorney Anne Donnelly said. “I’ve said it over and over again: It’s dangerous, it’s deadly, and in this particular case, he changed a man’s life forever.”

In a brief and restrained victim impact statement, Strauss, 73, asked Corrigan to “impose a sentence that will bring justice today.

“I am not the kind of person to complain, but this catastrophe of no doing of my own has destroyed my life,” Strauss said.

Strauss appeared in court wearing dark shorts, with his prosthetic leg visible. Strauss said O’Brien wept as the defendant approached Corrigan’s courtroom and saw what his actions had caused.

“The advocate who was with me said, ‘That’s him and he is crying, because he sees your leg,’ ” Strauss said after O’Brien was sentenced. “So at least we know he is human.”

O’Brien was visibly emotional as he waited for Corrigan to sentence him on Monday, telling reporters outside the courtroom before the hearing “I’m very, very sorry.”

O’Brien sobbed and spoke softly to himself as he waited in the gallery before the hearing, his entire body shaking as water splashed from the plastic cup he held in his trembling hands. He told Strauss and his family that he was remorseful for the crash and vowed to leave prison a better person. When he was led away by court officers, he looked back with tears in his eyes at his father and uncle in the gallery.

O’Brien’s attorney, Marc Gann, said his client has accepted responsibility for the crash and has undergone substance abuse treatment.

While many victims of crimes ask judges to impose the maximum sentence, Strauss and his family wrote letters telling the judge that they will abide by the sentence she imposes.

“They felt that justice would be served by whatever decision the judge made … I consider that incredibly gracious on their part,” Gann said.

Nassau prosecutors said that O’Brien had spent July 16, 2021, drinking in several bars before he got into a 2011 Chrysler 300 with two passengers. O’Brien sideswiped a vehicle that was stopped at a red light and then drove off.

“He fled the scene,” Donnelly said, “as most cowards do.”

O’Brien’s Chrysler hit another car and he lost control a short distance away. The car struck a tree, a pole and several other cars before hitting Strauss, who was outside an East Park Avenue deli where he was picking up dinner for his family.

O’Brien surrendered to officers with the Long Beach Police Department two days after the crash, on July 18, 2021.

Strauss said he remembers nothing about the crash. He said Long Beach has a reputation as a summertime party town, and he relentlessly drilled the dangers of drinking and driving into his sons.

“You can’t drink and drive,” he said. “The car is a weapon. It’s just that simple. It’s like a gun.”

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