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Family files suit against cardiologist charged in drunken-driving death of Middle Island woman

Russell Peterman speaks on Monday, June 23, 2014

Russell Peterman speaks on Monday, June 23, 2014 about his wife Monica, a Middle Island dialysis technician killed, allegedly, by Thomas Stavola, a Setauket cardiologist who authorities said was drunk. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

The family of a Middle Island mother of three killed in Smithtown in June has filed a wrongful-death suit against the alleged drunken driver, a cardiologist, charged in connection with her death.

Thomas Stavola, 54, was charged with one count of misdemeanor driving while intoxicated after he broadsided the car driven by Monica Peterman at Route 111 and East Main Street at 3:35 a.m. June 14.

The suit, filed last month in State Supreme Court in Riverhead, claims Stavola, of Setauket, caused Peterman's death by his negligence and carelessness, and seeks punitive damages.

Mineola attorney E. David Woycik Jr. said the family sued "to send a message" to those who drink and drive, commit felonies, including manslaughter, and flee to avoid prosecution.

Prosecutors said Stavola left the scene of the crash. In a field sobriety test, he slurred, smelled of alcohol and "was unsteady on his feet" when police found him blocks away, court papers said.

Blood taken from Stavola three hours later registered a blood-alcohol reading of .10, Robert Clifford, a spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas J. Spota, said Friday. The legal limit is .08.

"He was the only one who could have given help to Ms. Peterman . . . in those critical minutes and he fled the scene," said Woycik, who plans to seek up to $20 million. "As a doctor with a Hippocratic oath, he should have been there assisting someone in need."

Peterman, 45, worked with her husband's property management business and as a dialysis technician at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown and made about $85,000 from both jobs, Woycik said.

She was on her way to work at St. Catherine when she died.

The suit claims Stavola "acted recklessly, egregiously and characterized by malice or wantonness." He permitted his vehicle "to be operated in a negligent manner" and drove at a high speed while drunk "allowing his motor vehicle to strike and collide" with Peterman, the suit says.

Stavola is free on $250,000 bond. He could not be reached Friday. Stephen Wade LaMagna of Garden City, who represented him at his arraignment and entered a plea of not guilty, is no longer his lawyer, his office said.

His next court date is Aug. 26.

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