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Central Islip man pleads not guilty in fatal hit-and-run

Joseph Melendez of Central Islip, who faces charges

Joseph Melendez of Central Islip, who faces charges that he left the scene of a fatal accident on Nov. 9, 2014, that killed Lorenzo Fuentes, is led to his arraignment at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead on Friday, Jan. 2, 2015. Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Detectives from Suffolk's Vehicular Crimes Unit arrested a Central Islip man Friday in a fatal hit-and-run after using crash debris to figure out what kind of car he had and knocking on doors for four days until they found it, Suffolk prosecutors said.

Joseph Melendez, 30, of 21 Arrow Ct., pleaded not guilty Friday to an indictment charging him with leaving the scene of an accident without reporting a fatality. He is accused of hitting and killing Lorenzo Fuentes, 64, also of Central Islip, on Nov. 9. He posted bail of $100,000 bond, set by Suffolk County Court Judge Stephen Braslow.

His attorney, William Keahon, said he doubts the charges will hold up.

"Had they [police] done a complete investigation, they would have realized the charge against my client cannot and will not be proven," Keahon said.

He said his client is working toward getting his accounting degree.

Prosecutors said Melendez has a driving while intoxicated conviction in Nassau from a 2011 incident in which police said he was driving about 120 mph on the Long Island Expressway.

Fuentes was walking east on Motor Parkway at Highland Road shortly before 5 a.m. when he was hit and killed, Suffolk police said. Family said Fuentes was walking to a bus stop on his way to work at a factory where he produced metal objects.

Robert Clifford, spokesman for the Suffolk district attorney's office, said detectives determined that the headlight assembly and a piece of mirror left at the scene came from a 2014 Jeep Cherokee.

"They canvassed the area around the incident," looking for the Jeep, Clifford said. After four days of knocking on doors, Clifford said they found the Jeep -- with a hole in the windshield and blood on it -- at the home of the defendant's girlfriend's mother in Great River.

Detectives are waiting for lab results to see if the blood belonged to Fuentes, Clifford said.

Melendez was on his way from a party that night and thought he hit a deer, Clifford said.

With Gary Dymski

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