An ordinary drive home for a Queens family ended one summer night in a horrific fireball on the Southern State Parkway in Bay Shore, witnesses and lawyers told a Suffolk jury Tuesday.
The July 12, 2015, crash that killed Ancio Ostane, 37, and his children, Andy, 8, and Sephora, 4, of St. Albans, was described so vividly that one juror wept during opening statements before state Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho in Central Islip.
Oniel Sharpe Jr., 25, a maintenance worker from Springfield Gardens, is charged with aggravated vehicular homicide and numerous other charges.
Carole Peterson, a Westbury accountant, testified that her husband David was driving them home from Sayville at a steady 65 mph on the parkway. As they approached Exit 41 about 1:30 a.m., where the parkway separates into local and express lanes with a median between them, she said her husband blurted, “Holy crap!”
Peterson said she looked into the side mirror and saw a black BMW coming from the right at high speed — probably more than 90 mph. The car passed them, then swerved to avoid a slower vehicle.
An instant later, Peterson saw the fireball.
That, Assistant District Attorney Maggie Bopp said in her opening statement, was the result of Sharpe plowing his mother’s silver BMW X5 sport utility vehicle into the back of the Ostane family’s smaller Toyota RAV4.
Sharpe was racing behind the black BMW sedan, driven by Sheon Richards, 26, of St. Albans, Bopp said.
Like the Petersons, the Ostanes, and Sharpe and Richards were heading home from parties in Suffolk County. Sharpe and Richards had been at a booze-fueled bash so loud police had been called, Bopp said, while the Ostanes had been at a prayer-themed “Celebration of Life” event in Bay Shore.
The impact sent the Ostanes’ vehicle tumbling right across the median into the local lanes as it exploded. Ancio Ostane’s wife, Lucnie Bouaz-Ostane, escaped and tried to open the rear passenger door, where she could hear Sephora crying. But all the doors were locked.
“Lucnie Ostane stands in horror as her family starts to burn to death,” Bopp told the jury. “Her screams are ignored by the defendant and his friends.”
Sharpe, meanwhile, hurled a nearly empty bottle of Patrón tequila into the woods and then left in a car driven by a friend, Bopp said. He disappeared for four hours, not meeting police until the alcohol in his body had dissipated, she said.
One juror was still in tears as defense attorney Jonathan Manley of Hauppauge began his opening statement.
“Your verdict may not be influenced by sympathy in any way,” Manley began. “Miss Bopp just described some very emotional details.”
But Manley told jurors to resist being manipulated by horrific details that aren’t crucial to the case.
“They want you to feel that someone has to pay for the death of this family,” he said of prosecutors.
Manley denied that his client had callously fled the scene. He said two of Sharpe’s passengers were injured, so Sharpe and Stewart took them to get them medical help. As soon as he knew police were looking for him, he turned himself in and cooperated in every way, Manley said.
Any evidence that Sharpe was intoxicated relies on his low blood-alcohol content of 0.06 percent and retrograde extrapolation to estimate it was 0.12 percent at the time of the crash. Manley said retrograde extrapolation proves nothing.
“It’s about as scientifically reliable as astrology,” Manley said.
The trial is expected to last about a month. If convicted, Sharpe faces a maximum of 13 to 39 years in prison.