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Ronkonkoma man sentenced in DWI crash that killed childhood friend

Joseph Keleher, 25, pleaded guilty in June to

Joseph Keleher, 25, pleaded guilty in June to aggravated vehicular homicide and other charges in the death of Kevin Smith, 25, of Oakdale. Credit: SCPD

Parents of an Oakdale man killed by a drunken driver told a judge Thursday that the crime demanded harsher punishment.

Before state Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho sentenced Joseph Keleher, 25, of Ronkonkoma, to 22/3 to 8 years in prison for aggravated vehicular homicide, the parents of Kevin Smith, 25, said it wasn't enough.

Smith, who was not wearing a seat belt, was thrown from Keleher's Jeep when it flipped on Edwards Street in Patchogue just after midnight on Aug. 28, 2014.

A blood test for Keleher and Smith's autopsy showed both men -- friends since childhood -- were heavily intoxicated, with blood-alcohol levels more than twice the legal limit of 0.08 percent.

Bill Smith, the victim's father, said his son's actions don't absolve Keleher. "I accept the fact that my son willingly got into the car with Mr. Keleher and did not wear a seat belt," he said. "But Mr. Keleher was the person who was in control of the vehicle and responsible for the accident."

Smith told Camacho the sentence was too lenient to deter future drunken drivers.

"I will live with this emptiness for the rest of my life," he said. "I would hope that in the future you consider this to prevent future tragedies."

Anne Smith, the victim's mother, asked Camacho if the sentence would have been harsher if it had been his child who was killed.

Camacho told the parents he would feel the same way if he were in their shoes, but in his role he has to consider all the factors of a case, including the strength of the case against the defendant and whether the defendant has taken responsibility for what he did.

The judge said he had to consider Smith's failure to wear a seat belt and Keleher's willingness to plead guilty and spare the family a "devastating" trial and "years of appeals."

In that context, Camacho said the sentence recommended by prosecutors was fair and just. The maximum sentence for the crime is 81/3 to 25 years.

Before he was sentenced, Keleher promised that when he gets out of prison he'll do everything he can to prevent other people from doing what he did.

"I'm very sorry to everyone that's been put through this tragedy," he said.

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