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Judge: Joseph Perez was 'heartless' in DWI crash that killed woman

Joseph Perez, in Judge Camacho's courtroom at First

Joseph Perez, in Judge Camacho's courtroom at First District Court in Central Islip Thursday morning on June. 25, 2015, where he was sentenced for the fatal DWI crash that claimed the life of Donna Sartori. Photo Credit: James Carbone

Moments before imposing the maximum sentence Thursday on a Riverhead man for killing a woman while driving drunk, a Suffolk judge told him he was of remarkably poor character.

Joseph Perez, 31, was found guilty last month of aggravated vehicular homicide, second-degree manslaughter and second-degree vehicular manslaughter in the death of Donna Sartori, who was delivering newspapers with her shih tzu, Bam Bam, in the early hours of Jan. 5, 2014.

Perez had a blood-alcohol content of .23 percent -- almost three times the legal standard of .08 percent for driving while intoxicated -- when he plowed into Sartori's car, knocking her out of her seat 40 feet down the road. Bam Bam was never found.

"I have nothing to say, sir," Perez said when state Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho gave him a chance to explain himself.

"OK, well, I do," Camacho replied.

He said Perez's character was apparent even before the crash, when after a night of drinking he peeled out of a Hampton Bays nightclub's parking lot although friends offered to drive for him after he got into a minor fender bender. Then, less than 2 miles away, after he killed Sartori, 56, of Middle Island, Perez sat on a bench near her body and waited for police and emergency workers to come.

"I can't imagine killing someone, and not even holding their hand during their last moments on this earth," Camacho told an impassive Perez. "You're a cold, heartless, uncaring, self-centered individual."

Camacho sentenced Perez to 12 1/2 to 25 years in prison.

Earlier, Sartori's husband, Anthony Guggino, told Perez, "Donna was my whole life. You took everything away from us."

That includes even the dog, he said.

"We had no children," Guggino said. "We had a dog. We lost our dog in this accident."

Sartori's sister, Debra Fox of Saratoga Springs, said her death devastated her entire family.

"Not only did my sister die, but a part of each person in my family died right along with her -- especially my parents," Fox said. "They're both so grief-stricken that they couldn't come anywhere near this courtroom during the trial because they could not bear to look at the man that is responsible for their daughter's senseless death."

Assistant District Attorney Carl Borelli said the crash never had to happen.

"Everything about this was avoidable," he said. "This was not an accident. He made choice after choice after choice."

Defense attorney George Duncan of Central Islip emotionally apologized to Sartori's family and asked Camacho not to punish his client for exercising his right to a trial.

But Camacho made it clear that played no role in his sentencing.


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