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Expert challenged on driver’s drinking in Southern State crash

Oniel Sharpe Jr., 25, of Springfield Gardens, is

Oniel Sharpe Jr., 25, of Springfield Gardens, is on trial in State Supreme Court in Central Islip, charged with vehicular homicide in the fiery fatal crash on the Southern State Parkway that killed a father and two children on July 12, 2015. Photo Credit: SCPD

A toxicology expert told jurors Thursday that a Queens maintenance worker’s blood-alcohol content was “in the vicinity” of 0.12 percent when the man crashed into a sport utility vehicle on the Southern State Parkway, killing three family members.

But during cross-examination, Mark Katz of the Suffolk medical examiner’s office, conceded that his estimate relied on several assumptions that could skew the result if they were wrong about the defendant, Oniel Sharpe Jr., 26, of Springfield Gardens.

Sharpe is on trial in Central Islip before state Supreme Court Justice Fernado Camacho, charged with aggravated vehicular homicide and other crimes in the July 12, 2015, deaths of Ancio Ostane, 37, and his children, Andy, 8, and Sephora, 4, all of St. Albans. Sharpe is accused of driving drunk at high speed into the back of the family’s Toyota RAV4 and then fleeing the scene after their vehicle exploded, leaving all three to burn to death, trapped in their car on the Southern State Parkway at Exit 41S in Bay Shore.

The prosecution’s claim that Sharpe was drunk rests on Katz’s estimate. Sharpe’s blood-alcohol content was 0.05 percent five hours after the crash. Using a mathematical formula called retrograde extrapolation, Katz testified that Sharpe’s blood-alcohol content at the time of the crash would have been about 0.12 percent, over the legal threshold of 0.08 percent.

The formula says that men typically eliminate 0.015 percent of the alcohol in their blood every hour through the liver, starting about a half hour after they’ve stopped drinking, Katz testified.

Defense attorney Jonathan Manley of Hauppauge attacked both the formula and Katz’s use of it during cross-examination.

“Some researchers in the field have said it’s forensically unacceptable, isn’t that right?” Manley asked.

“If you make unreasonable assumptions, the opinion becomes less valid,” Katz replied. “You have to be careful about it.”

Manley suggested Katz was more cavalier than careful.

Katz agreed with Manley that some men eliminate alcohol from their bodies faster than others, and that the 0.015 percent an hour figure was just an everage. Katz also agreed that he had no idea when Sharpe stopped drinking, what he was drinking, how much he drank, whether he ate and when he ate. All of those factors could affect how fast Sharpe’s body absorbed and eliminated alcohol.

“It’s only an estimate,” Katz said when Manley asked how quickly alcohol enters a person’s bloodstream.

“It’s an estimation, not an exact science, correct?” Manley asked of retrograde extrapolation. Katz agreed.

Throughout the trial, when forensice experts have testified, Manley has made a point of noting that their fields — such as DNA examination and fingerprint analysis, among others — are exact, peer-reviewed sciences with little or no room for interpretation.

During questioning by Assistant District Attorney Patricia Brosco, Katz agreed it would have been best if Sharpe had not left the crash scene and had his blood-alcohol content measured there. Sharpe later told police he had just one beer at a party before the crash.

“The scenario the defendant gave police was malarkey, wasn’t it?” Brosco asked.

Katz said one beer could not have resulted in a blood-alcohol content of 0.05 percent five hours later.

Earlier Thursday, State Police Investigator Sean Lammens, a crash reconstruction expert, told jurors that after Sharpe hit the Ostane vehicle from behind, skid marks indicated his BMW X5 was going sideways at about 81 mph before straightening out and coming to a stop.

During questioning by Manley, Lammens said if he didn’t know certain factors, he didn’t include them in his calculations. He said he can’t speculate in his work, which is peer-reviewed for accuracy.

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