A widow who lost her husband in a drunken-driving crash 3½ years ago said Tuesday in a Central Islip courtroom that she feels compelled to forgive the driver.
“I have come to realize this was not intentional,” Kim Garwood, 64, of Island Park, wrote in a letter that was read at the sentencing of the woman who killed her husband, Larry Garwood, 59. “I need to forgive her. I hope she does as she said she would do, and never drinks and drives again.”
Natalia Simons, 39, of Kings Park, was sentenced to 4 years in prison.
She’s been jailed since pleading guilty more than a year ago to aggravated vehicular homicide and other charges. She admitted driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.18 percent — more than double the legal standard of 0.08 percent — when she drifted across Route 25A in Smithtown and hit Garwood’s car.
Garwood, a radiology manager at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown, was taken back to that hospital, where co-workers tried to save his life.
“There is not a day that goes by when I don’t think about what happened and the pain that I’ve caused,” a tearful Simons said when it was her turn to talk. “I’m very sorry for that. I don’t expect forgiveness. I just hope one day you can accept my apology.”
Before Simons pleaded guilty last year, Assistant District Attorney Ray Varuolo said Simons and Kim Garwood embraced in the courthouse hallway.
“She had a moment in the hallway, when they spoke and they cried,” Varuolo said. “Mrs. Garwood has been unbelievably understanding.”
Defense attorney William Keahon of Hauppauge said in his 45 years in the criminal justice system, he has never seen a defendant so regretful for what she did and so eager to make amends.
Keahon quoted at length from a pre-sentence probation report. “She acknowledges there is no justice for the Garwood family, no matter how much time she is sentenced to,” the report said.
Since Simons entered the Suffolk County jail after her plea, Keahon said she has worked ceaselessly with other inmates to prevent future drunken-driving crashes and has been an asset both to inmates and jail staff.
Simons fasts on the 13th day of every month in Garwood’s memory, Keahon said. Garwood was killed March 13, 2015.
“She is regarded as a kind, genuine and empathetic person who is devastated by the harm she caused,” Keahon said. “The defendant has been influential in helping other defendants think about their crimes differently.”
She has pledged to raise money for funeral expenses of drunken-driving victims and to help educate bar and restaurant employees about recognizing signs of intoxicated patrons, Keahon said.
Keahon asked state Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho to consider giving less time than he promised at the time of the plea.
Camacho appeared to consider the request, but said, “I am bound by my promise.”
Still, he said it was important for the Garwood family to see how Simons has changed, an emotional Camacho said.
“I pray for you,” he told Kim Garwood. He said her urge to forgive Simons “tells me about you, and it tells me what kind of man your husband was.”
To Simons, the judge said, “You will never be the same. Mr. Garwood’s family will never be the same. I want you to devote the rest of your life, all of your talents, to make sure this never happens to another family.”
As she left the courtroom in handcuffs, Camacho told her, “You will survive. You’ll get stronger and your voice will get louder.”
Afterward, Kim Garwood appeared relieved, but noted she is still alone and still struggling financially since her husband’s death.
“I’m glad that it’s over,” she said. “I just hope that she keeps her promise in keeping Larry’s name alive. Hopefully our lives will be better.”