A Lynbrook man who police said was driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol when he smashed into the rear of another car, killing two people, told police soon after the crash: "I had a glass of wine and smoked marijuana," according to court papers.
John Aniano, 25, pleaded not guilty Wednesday at his arraignment in a hospital room to two felony counts each of driving while ability impaired by drugs and alcohol, second-degree vehicular manslaughter and second-degree manslaughter, said Shams Tarek, a spokesman for acting Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas. Nassau District Court Judge Andrew M. Engel ordered Aniano held on $500,000 cash or $1 million bond and set a court date for next Wednesday, Tarek said.
Aniano was speeding in a 2004 gray Mercedes-Benz westbound on Forest Avenue in Lynbrook when his car "violently impacted" a 2005 Toyota sedan at about 8:15 p.m. Monday, according to a felony complaint. The Toyota careened into the eastbound lanes, where it hit the driver's side of a third car. Killed in the crash was the Toyota's driver, John Jones, 54, and his front-seat passenger, Sharon Rene Long, 53, who lived together in Lynbrook. Family members of Long and Jones could not be reached.
A Nassau police officer who responded to the scene said Aniano "appeared disoriented, lethargic," had "constricted pupils" and was "not making any sense when he spoke," the complaint said. The officer saw two prescription pill bottles in the car and asked Aniano who they belonged to and he replied, "I took my meds," the complaint said.
Aniano, who was taken to the hospital, also told police there, "I only took the Seroquel." According to the website for Seroquel, the prescription drug is used to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Aniano's defense attorney, Joseph Lee of Long Beach, said he saw his client, who has "fractures to his spine and leg and scars on his head" for the first time since the accident just before the arraignment and "he was receiving a heavy amount of painkillers. He's not really functioning at this point to have a conversation."
Asked about the allegations, Lee said: "I find it hard to believe he said all those things, but you know what, when he feels better I'll have a thorough conversation with him."
Aniano's father, also named John Aniano, 58, of Freeport, said after the arraignment: "My condolences go out to the families. It's a terrible, terrible circumstance and I just think when the facts come out it will be known that this is due to a problem with his [my son's] condition, his bipolar condition, a manic episode that he had."Neither Aniano's father nor reporters were permitted to attend the arraignment inside Aniano's South Nassau Communities Hospital room in Oceanside. Newsday requested access to the arraignment, which is generally a public proceeding, and the judge initially said he would allow a reporter to observe the proceedings. But a hospital staffer prevented Newsday and other reporters from attending, and Engel did not overrule the hospital.
Asked why he barred reporters from attending the proceeding, Engel said as he left the hospital: "I did not; the hospital did."
Damian Becker, a hospital spokesman, said federal HIPAA privacy laws prohibited the hospital from allowing members of the media to attend the arraignment, but he told reporters that Aniano was "incoherent."
Dan Bagnuola, a spokesman for the Nassau court system, said Engel inquired twice with a hospital administrator about allowing the media to attend the arraignment, but was told it was against hospital policy. Bagnuola said two nurses examined Aniano before the arraignment and said he was "medically competent" to be arraigned.
Lee, Aniano's attorney, said he was not consulted by the judge about reporters attending, but said: "I did not really want anyone there. My client was not in good condition in that time. He's entitled to a little bit of privacy."
Tarek, the district attorney's spokesman, said: "Generally speaking, we have no objection to media covering outside arraignments."