Varun Datt, of Syosset, was sentenced to 3 to 9 years in prison in a drunk driving case where he jumped the curb and ended up striking a man and his niece. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Matthew Barrera lay motionless on the sidewalk in front of his sister-in-law's Syosset home on Memorial Day last year, after he and his 3-year-old niece Mia were struck by an alleged drunk driver in broad daylight while walking to a playground.

Barrera, with extensive facial and leg injuries that would keep him confined to a wheelchair for six weeks, desperately turned his attention to Mia.

"I kept saying to my wife, 'I tried to save Mia but I don't think I did," Barrera said in Nassau Criminal Court Thursday as the driver, Varun Datt, 37, of Syosset was sentenced by Judge Caryn Fink to 3 to 9 years in prison. "I thought Mia was dead since I saw her lying underneath Varun Datt's crashed car. That image will never leave me."

Datt, who was driving with a 0.26 blood alcohol level — more than three times the legal limit — pleaded guilty in April to aggravated vehicular assault, second-degree assault and aggravated driving while intoxicated.

In court Thursday, Datt, who has a prior DWI conviction, apologized to the victims.

"I am extremely remorseful for the mistake I made in deciding to drive under the influence of alcohol as it has left me with a sense of shame, guilt and regret which I may not be able to forgive myself for," Datt said.

On May 31, Datt's Hyundai sedan jumped the curb onto the sidewalk of Ann Drive and collided with Barrera, of Smithtown, who tried to shield Mia from the oncoming vehicle, prosecutors said. 

Following the crash, "Datt simply sat behind the wheel, heavily intoxicated and surrounded by empty bottles of alcohol,” Nassau District Attorney Anne Donnelly said. 

Empty bottles of rum and vodka were found in the car. The defendant’s sweatshirt also contained a full bottle of whiskey and two empty bottles of alcohol, prosecutors said.

Marie Marsilio said her daughter suffered only minor cuts and bruises but still talks about the "bad man who ran me over." Mia, she said, has been in therapy to deal with the trauma.

"I still live in fear," Marie Marsilio said in a victim's impact statement. "I can't play on the lawn with my daughter because of the anxiety. I still can't go for walks by myself or with my children."

Victim Matthew Barrera speaks with reporters outside State Supreme Court...

Victim Matthew Barrera speaks with reporters outside State Supreme Court in Mineola on Thursday. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Barrera, who was credited with saving Mia's life, suffered facial fractures, a broken nose, a tear in his knee and still needs nasal surgery.

 John Powers, Datt's West Islip-based attorney, said his client has been sober for more than a year.

"He stands before the people that he's affected as someone who is sober and grateful and accepting the consequences of his actions," Powers said outside court. 

Compounding the family's pain, Datt, who had been free on bail for the past year, lives on the same block as the victims and frequently walked past the Marsilio home, family members said.

"It's a constant reminder," Marie Marsilio said. "It's bad enough that it happened in front of our home … and then we see him walking by or his family walking by. It's just a constant."

While Barrera said he's satisfied with the sentence, his family has yet to recover from the traumatic episode.

"I think we're coping as well as we can," he said. "Mia is young enough that … I don't think it's a constant memory in her mind. But we relive this incident all the time."

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