Jim Scarpati reacts to the sentencing of James Ryan, the...

Jim Scarpati reacts to the sentencing of James Ryan, the driver in a DWI accident that killed his 19-year-old son, Matthew. (Oct. 19, 2011) Credit: Howard Schnapp

James Ryan says he cannot remember the day he drove drunk on the Wantagh Parkway, veered off the road on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle and killed 19-year-old Matthew Scarpati, who was changing a flat tire on his bicycle.

Scarpati's mother says she cannot forget it.

"That evening my life would be forever changed as three state troopers stood outside my door," Lynn Scarpati of Dix Hills said in court Wednesday. "I knew that there was no good news to deliver in person."

A Nassau County judge Wednesday sentenced Ryan, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in the crash and can't remember anything about it, to 3 to 9 years in prison. Ryan, 46, pleaded guilty in August to second-degree manslaughter, drunken driving and other charges.

"That was a seed that could have been placed into the ground and flowered into a Redwood oak," Judge Jerald Carter said of Scarpati, who was a student at the University of Buffalo when he died. "You stole that from society."

Carter said someone had remarked to him that 3 to 9 years in prison is not much. "That's a person who doesn't know what prison is about," he said.

On the other hand, he acknowledged that in a few years, Ryan, of New Hyde Park, will be out of jail and could be on the road again. "If something occurs, it's going to be on my shoulders. I'll accept that weight," he said.

Prosecutor Brendan Ahern and the family had asked for the maximum of 5 to 15 years. But after the sentencing, Lynn Scarpati said, "Would I have liked a more severe sentence? Yes, but he is the judge and we respect him."

Prosecutors said that at about 8 p.m. on July 20, 2009, Ryan was driving his motorcycle north on the Wantagh State Parkway near the Goose Creek Bridge in Wantagh when he lost control. He crashed into Scarpati, who was on the bicycle path.

Prosecutors said Ryan, who was driving between 85 and 100 mph at the time of the crash, had a blood-alcohol reading of 0.10 percent 2 1/2 hours after the crash. The legal limit is 0.08 percent.

After Scarpati's death, his parents worked with legislators to have a guardrail erected between the parkway and the bike path to protect bikers.

"Your son is going to save many lives on that road, " Carter told Scarpati's parents.

Ryan's attorney, Edward Galison of Mineola, has said in court he implored his client not to plead guilty.

"He has no memory of the events at all," he said in court Wednesday. "He has to live with what he's been told happened."

Galison added that he asked Ryan not to speak in court, but he said "he has conveyed to me his best sympathies to the Scarpati family."

Ryan's father, a retired New York City police officer, has said he told his son to plead guilty by saying it was time to get on with their lives.

But Lynn Scarpati said she cannot move forward. Her son's soccer bag is still by the door, she said, and his new golf clubs are on the back porch. "We still cannot move them," she said.

She described her son as a loving boy, determined to have an impact on the world.

"Matt was a person who could make a positive difference, but we will never see him fulfill his potential," she said.

"Unfortunately, everywhere I go, I have flashes of memories of Matt," she said. "Maybe one day the memories will be a comfort, but now they are a knife in my heart."

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