For the past 15 months, Rena and George Gasparis of Wantagh said, they've been living through "complete misery."
On July 1, 2020, their only child, 20-year-old Kyriakoula Gasparis, was killed in a single-car crash just five minutes from her home as she was returning from a hiking trip with friends.
And while the driver, Eddy Delaleu, 21, had a suspended driver’s license and was charged with aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, a misdemeanor, he received no jail time and was sentenced to less than $450 in fines.
Now the Gasparises are working with Albany lawmakers to increase the penalties on motorists who drive with a suspended or revoked license and are involved in crashes that lead to serious injury or death.
"I lost my only child at 20 years old due to someone’s reckless driving," Rena Gasparis said. "This has to change. This is a dilapidated law system. I have not been protected. My family has not been protected."
Delaleu's attorney, Susan Veltry of Bay Shore, declined to comment.
A bill that was introduced both last legislative session and then again in March in the Democrat-controlled State Assembly would allow prosecutors to charge motorists with felony vehicular homicide if they drive with a suspended or revoked license or without a license and cause the death of an another individual.
"We have to say very clearly that it is a crime to drive without a valid license, especially if you cause the death of another person," said Assemb. David McDonough (R-Merrick), the bill’s lead sponsor. " … It’s a good measure. There’s no question about that. It’s just common sense."
A similar bill introduced in the state Senate, also controlled by Democrats, would allow prosecutors to charge second-degree vehicular assault, a felony, if a driver causes "serious physical injury" while operating a vehicle without a valid license.
"My heart goes out to the Gasparis family, and while no new law will bring back their daughter, we can make things better in the interests of justice and preventing future tragedies," said Sen. Michael Gianaris, a Queens Democrat and the bill’s sponsor. "I will continue working with them to achieve these goals."
The bill is co-sponsored by Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), who is running for Nassau district attorney next month.
The State Legislature will return to session in January.
An 'inadequate' law
Kyriakoula Gasparis, known as Kyra, was studying bioscience at Farmingdale State College and pursuing a career as a physician assistant. She told her parents she was going on a hiking trip to New Paltz with friends from college. They left the morning of June 30, 2020.
Delaleu did not tell his passengers that his license had been suspended for a lack of registration and insurance on his vehicle, said Rena Gasparis.
The crash occurred in front of Gardiners Avenue Elementary School in Levittown, where Kyra was a gymnastics teacher. Delaleu, driving his mother's car, struck a tree. Kyra, the only passenger in the vehicle, succumbed to serious injuries at a hospital.
"How does one measure the impact of the tragic death of your only child at 20 years old, having to bury your only child and living the rest of your life without them?" Gasparis said. "We will not see her graduate from college, not see her pursue her career, never see her as a bride and have children. We will not have a hug or share a meal together, ever. We will never blow out candles on her birthday cake again."
Delaleu, formerly of West Babylon, moved out of the state and couldn't be reached for comment. Under existing law, he could only be charged with aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, an unclassified misdemeanor.
Prosecutors requested the maximum sentence of 30 days in jail and, in June, Rena Gasparis delivered a passionate victim's impact statement in court. But District Court Judge Valerie Alexander sentenced Delaleu to a one-year conditional discharge and a $350 fine with $88 in surcharges.
"We agree with Mrs. Gasparis that the law is inadequate," said Brendan Brosh, a spokesman for the Nassau district attorney's office.
Rena Gasparis filed a formal complaint against the judge and has circulated an online petition with nearly 1,400 signatures calling for Alexander's removal from the bench.
Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the Office of Court Administration, said "judges have wide discretion, based on the facts and circumstances of individual cases, as to what sentence would be most appropriate. If an individual feels that penalties should be elevated, the legislature promulgates the laws that the judiciary follows in determining how a case is adjudicated."
Nassau prosecutors first proposed changing the law in 2015 after 12-year-old Zachary Ranftle was struck and killed by an unlicensed driver while walking to school in Valley Stream. The driver Austin Soldano, 30, of Seaford, whose license had been suspended following a previous DWI arrest, was sentenced to 18 months in prison because he also faced a separate DWI charge.
Rena Gasparis said the state cannot wait for another innocent passenger to die at the hands of an unlicensed driver.
"This driver took advantage of his driving privileges, did not prioritize making good on keeping his license updated and took to the road with no regard for others' safety," she said.