An Aquebogue mother and daughter told a Sound Beach man Wednesday he had ruined Christmas and left them forever scarred when he drove the wrong way on Sunrise Highway and killed the family patriarch two years ago.
“I will never recover emotionally,” said Kathleen D’Eletto, who lost her husband Thomas. “I long for the man who was my protector, my lover, my partner.”
Moments later, her daughter, Christina Wesnofske, explained how the Dec. 23, 2015, crash turned the family’s joyous occasions somber.
“On Christmas Eve, we were supposed to be celebrating my daughter’s first Christmas,” she said. “Instead, we picked out my father’s casket.”
State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho sentenced Christopher O’Brien, 56, to the maximum 5 to 15 years in prison for second-degree manslaughter and driving while intoxicated.
Prosecutors had charged O’Brien with second-degree murder in the death of D’Eletto, a civil engineer, but Camacho found after a nonjury trial in October that the evidence did not support a murder conviction. It also did not support mercy, the judge said Wednesday.
“Your entire adult life, you have been selfish, weak and irresponsible,” Camacho told O’Brien in his Central Islip courtroom. “All you cared about was alcohol and cocaine. Your only goal in life was your next high.”
Camacho imposed the sentence after listening to D’Eletto’s wife and daughter describe their anguish since he died while going to work that foggy morning. The victim’s young grandchildren alternately played and cried in the courtroom.
That Christmas, Wesnofske said, she watched her heartbroken mother open gift certificates from her father to their favorite restaurants.
“In the end, Mr. O’Brien, only God can judge you,” she said.
D’Eletto repeated one of her husband’s favorite sayings — with every cause, there is an effect — noting that’s never been clearer to her since O’Brien crashed his Audi head-on into Thomas D’Eletto’s Toyota in the westbound lanes of Sunrise Highway near Yaphank.
“You can’t hug memory,” she said, sitting in the jury box next to a large portrait of her husband. “No goodbyes were exchanged. Memories and photographs have replaced him.”
She is overcome by emotion about 30 times a day, every day, she said. Pausing to maintain her composure, she added: “The pain of losing him has become a constant in our lives.”
Assistant District Attorney Marc Lindemann said O’Brien nearly killed seven other people that morning while driving drunk and recklessly all over Suffolk. He asked Camacho for the maximum sentence.
Defense attorney Scott Gross of Hauppauge asked for mercy, noting that his client’s remorse is deep and real. He said the drug and alcohol problems that caused the crash began as a result of a parachuting injury he got while in the Army, which had led to a pain pill addiction.
“I’m not mitigating what he did,” Gross said. “He deserved to be punished, and he knows that.”
O’Brien told the victim’s family he was sorry and knew that even though he’s tried to help others fighting addiction in jail since the crash, that can’t help the D’Elettos.
“I pray every day for your family,” he said.
Camacho said he hoped O’Brien was serious when he talked about maintaining his sobriety.
“For your sake, I hope you mean it,” the judge said.