A doctor who was driving drunk when he killed a Middle Island woman last year pleaded guilty Thursday, and the victim's family agreed he should serve only two years in prison so he could return to helping others by practicing medicine again.
"He paid his debt to society. I think he should be able to go back to helping people," Russell Peterman said outside Suffolk County Court in Central Islip after cardiologist Thomas Stavola, 56, of Setauket, pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter in the death of Monica Peterman, 45.
"I think the district attorney did a very good job. We're OK with the sentence," Peterman said, his sons Justin Greaves, 24, and Bryan Greaves, 26, at his side. "We had to let go of the anger and realize this guy deserves another chance. Unfortunately my wife did not get one."
A felony conviction could result in Stavola losing his medical license. The state Department of Health, which regulates doctors, did not return an email and telephone calls for comment Thursday.
Stavola did not comment as he left court. "Our thoughts are with Peterman family," defense attorney Alex Spiro of Manhattan said. In the courtroom, Stavola repeated the words, "Yes, your honor," as Judge Fernando Camacho walked him through the implications of his guilty plea.
The judge set Jan. 12 for sentencing. The maximum penalty he could have faced if convicted at trial was 5 to 15 years in prison. His sentence will include 5 years on parole after serving his 2-year term.
Stavola, in response to the judge's questions, admitted he was intoxicated and should have known he could kill someone when he got behind the wheel of his Audi early in the morning of June 14, 2014. He had a blood-alcohol level of 0.10 percent, greater than the level at which one is presumed intoxicated, 0.08 percent, prosecutors said.
Court papers show Stavola told police officers he had been to a bar and had a beer before the crash. He was driving on Route 111 just before 4 a.m. when he ran a red light at Main Street in Smithtown and hit a car driven by the victim, a dialysis technician on her way to work at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown, prosecutors said.
"Monica was a very caring person," her husband said. "Unfortunately, she died on her way to caring for other people. She always gave of herself and never asked for anything in return. That's just who she was, a very dedicated and devoted mother and wife."
District Attorney Thomas Spota had criticized Stavola's failure to stop and help Peterman. "What I find so disturbing is this man is a physician, who could have rendered aid," Spota said when Stavola was indicted last year. Instead, Spota said, Stavola walked away from the crash scene, neither helping nor calling for help. A police officer arrested him nearby shortly afterward. He told the officer he thought he'd hit a curb, Spota said.
The victim's husband said the 16 months since her death have been difficult for the family. "I go places thinking things are different, but everywhere I go we went there together, so you can't get away from the emotional stuff," he said.
"We're strong, but just because you look strong don't mean you are strong," he said, his sons nodding in agreement. "On the inside, you hurt just like everyone else, and you feel the loss and you want to scream and cry and all that stuff, and you just hold on.
"I'm still waiting for her to come through the door -- a door she'll never enter again," he said.