The alleged drunken driver who struck and killed a beloved Huntington Station nurse had a blood alcohol level nearly twice the legal limit, according to the Suffolk County district attorney’s office.
Suffolk district attorney spokesman Robert Clifford said in an email Wednesday that Ryan Gurecki’s blood alcohol reading was 0.13 percent. The state limit for drivers is 0.08 percent. Clifford added that further blood testing was being done to determine whether Gurecki had narcotics in his system at the time of the crash.
Meanwhile, the family of crash victim Karen Holden 56, wants to help stop people who have been drinking alcohol from getting behind the wheel and push for tougher penalties for those who do, family members said Wednesday.
“Keys for Karen,” in honor of Holden, a longtime nurse at St. Francis Hospital in Flower Hill who was killed Sunday night, is a social media campaign started by Holden’s sister to get bar and restaurant owners to designate a box at their establishment where drinkers can leave their keys.
“If you have a drink or do drugs simply hand over the keys,” Holden’s sister, Lynne Pallmeyer, 53, of East Northport, wrote on her Facebook page. “We need this to stop. I want to find a support system and rally in her name. I want to have her name in lights and shine like her smile. I’m going to make this my mission.”
Karen Holden was on her way to Virginia with her husband, William Holden, 57, and son Robert Holden, 23, to visit her other son Ken Holden, 24, when, authorities said, Gurecki hit their car while stopped at a red light on Jericho Turnpike in Huntington Station on Sunday night. Her husband and son survived the crash.
Gurecki, 34, a carpenter from Lindenhurst, told police after the crash that he drank five Heinekens at his job site earlier, officials said.
Gurecki, who was convicted in 2006 of driving while inoxicated, pleaded not guilty to new DWI charges at his arraignment Monday and was ordered held on a $250,000 cash bail. Gurecki’s attorney, Michael Gajdos of Nesconset, could not be reached Wednesday.
Ken Holden, an Army veteran who started in the police academy for the Fairfax County, Virginia, police department in mid-April and has postponed his career after his mother’s sudden death, said he and his family want to “try to put an end to drunk driving.”
He said drunken driving incidents that result in death should have stiffer penalties.
“New York State is still not up to date on all their drunk driving laws. This should be murder. Drunk driving in America in general, I’ve seen a lot of people get DUIs. Aside from big lawyer fees and court fees, it’s just kind of a slap on the wrist. It’s just not right.”
His father, William Holden, is still hospitalized, he said.
“He’s talking and understanding,” said Ken Holden of his dad. “Having to break the news to him that my mother passed was the most devastating thing. ... Her and my dad had the greatest relationship. They’d still walk down the road holding hands.”
His brother, Robert Holden, has been released from the hospital. He’s “real banged up and emotionally destroyed,” Ken Holden said.
A few days before the crash, Ken Holden said his mom called and announced she was coming to visit to help him and his wife, Cynthia, paint their new apartment in Manassas, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C.
For now his career as a police officer is on hold. But he said he plans to re-enter the police academy in the next cycle and his commanders and colleagues have been very supportive as he’s been dealt this tragedy.
Ken Holden, who served three years in the Army at Fort Meyer, Virginia, as a part of the Old Guard, working extensively at Arlington National Cemetery, said his mom was initially trepidatious about him joining the military.
“She couldn’t have been more supportive,” said Ken Holden, a Huntington High School graduate. “But at first she didn’t want me to join the Army at all.”
But she was soon gushing about it on Facebook and when he came home on visits she had adorned her car with stickers like, “Army mom” and “Support the troops,” he said.
“She couldn’t have been a better mom,” said Ken Holden. “She was honestly one of the greatest people I’ve ever had the honor of spending time with.”
Ken Holden said he’s found comfort in the way the community has rallied around his family. A gofundme page (https://www.gofundme.com/2bkatf8) for the Holden family has raised more than $40,000, eclipsing the $30,000 goal.
“She was the most awesome woman,” he said. “Everyone loved my mom. This is a woman that has an entire community backing her up. These people are willing to fight to make a difference for my mom or anyone else who has been killed by drunk drivers.”