A Wheatley Heights man Wednesday admitted in court that he was driving a car at a high speed in November when it flipped and killed a friend in the backseat.
Brandon Charles, 20, pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter in the death of Carla Vanessa Flores, 19, of Wyandanch. Until the Suffolk County Crime Lab matched a blood stain on the driver's side of the car with Charles' DNA, it was unclear who had been driving in the early hours of Nov. 1, 2014. The car's owner, Joseph Dunn, 21, of Dix Hills, was in the front passenger seat.
In return for the plea, state Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho promised to sentence Charles to 3 to 9 years in prison on Nov. 5.
"It has been 10 long months of dealing with this," said Flores' older sister, Viviana Betanco of Wyandanch.
The family's attorney, Christopher Cassar of Huntington, said family members have endured "extreme emotional hardship" since the crash. He praised the vehicular crimes unit of the Suffolk district attorney's office for leading a thorough investigation after Charles and Dunn would not say who was driving.
The head of that unit, Assistant District Attorney John Scott Prudenti, said the credit belongs to the crime lab and the Suffolk police department. In addition to the blood spot on the driver's doorjamb that matched Charles, an investigator hired by Dunn's family showed that a diagonal bruise on his chest proved Dunn was wearing the seat belt in the front passenger seat.
"This was an extremely difficult case to solve," Prudenti said, noting that Charles and Dunn were out of the Chevrolet Camaro when police arrived. He said the car crashed at "extremely high speed" and that surveillance video and witnesses showed the car's occupants were intoxicated.
Because police were unable to determine at the scene who was driving, they had no legal authority to get a warrant for a blood test to establish Charles' blood-alcohol content.
Betanco said her family worried that Charles might get away with it because his father is a New York City police officer, but Prudenti said Charles' father never tried to influence the investigation.
Charles' attorney, Peter Brill of Hauppauge, said his client is a "good kid. He's broken up about losing his friend."
Brill said there was no attempt by his client or Dunn to evade responsibility. Instead, he said both men were shaken up at the scene and unable to tell police what happened.
"There was no great collusion between them," he said.