An unlicensed driver accused of fleeing an accident scene before he plowed into an East Farmingdale Panera Bread restaurant may have "panicked" and the gas pedal got stuck, his lawyer said Friday.
Jerome Arnold was not driving away from an earlier fender bender when he crashed into the eatery, pinning and seriously injuring a customer on Thursday, according to attorney Daniel J. Sullivan.
"He may have been shaken up in that accident and panicked," said Sullivan, of Central Islip, after Arnold's arraignment Friday in First District Court in Central Islip.
Arnold, 69, of Farmingdale, pleaded not guilty to leaving the scene of an accident with property damage, a violation, and third-degree aggravated unlicensed operation for driving with a suspended license, a misdemeanor. The retired electrician was released last evening on $5,000 bond.
Sullivan said neither charge stems from the Panera crash.
"His heart goes out to the people who were hurt in that accident, and I think that's just what it is, it is an accident," Sullivan said.
Police said Arnold was in a hit-and-run crash with another car in the nearby Walmart parking lot and then apparently lost control of his Nissan Pathfinder, barreling into the eatery at Republic Plaza just after 10:20 a.m. Thursday.
Ragen Ryan, 34, of Massapequa was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital, where she was being treated for internal injuries and several fractures. She was in stable condition Friday, a spokeswoman said.
Marianne Turndahl, 37, of Rockville Centre, who was dining with Ryan, fractured her arm and was also in stable condition Friday at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip.
Both women are nurses.
Arnold and his passenger, his wife, were not hurt, police said.
Arnold's license was suspended twice in 1996 after he failed to answer summonses for traffic violations and did not pay fines, police said.
Arnold "realized he didn't have a license and he attempted to flee" after hitting the first vehicle, Suffolk County Det. Lt. Robert Edwards of the First Precinct said Thursday.
Arnold told police about the first accident and his suspended license, court papers show.