A Setauket doctor pleaded not guilty Monday to an increased charge of second-degree manslaughter after a grand jury accused him of driving drunk and killing a dialysis technician on her way to work at a Smithtown hospital.
Thomas Stavola, 54, a cardiologist, remained free on $250,000 bond.
Assistant District Attorney Al Croce told State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho that a crash reconstruction estimated that Stavola was driving about 55 mph in his Audi on Route 111 just before 4 a.m. on June 14 when he ran a red light and hit a car driven by Monica Peterman, 45, of Middle Island.
Stavola, who was originally charged only with DWI, had a blood-alcohol content of .10 percent, greater than the legal limit of .08 percent, Croce said.
Before the arraignment, two sets of grim-faced family and friends sat in silence on opposite sides of the courtroom.
Both Stavola and defense attorney Alex Spiro of Manhattan declined to comment afterward. He handed out a prepared statement that said, "Dr. Stavola is a devoted father, revered doctor and well respected member of his community. This terrible accident remains a tragedy for everyone involved."
District Attorney Thomas Spota took a dim view of Stavola's behavior.
"What I find so disturbing is this man is a physician, who could have rendered aid," Spota said. Instead, Spota said, Stavola walked away from the crash scene, neither helping nor calling for help, and a police officer arrested him nearby shortly afterward. He told the officer he thought he'd hit a curb, Spota said.
"He actually embedded his front license plate in the victim's automobile," Spota said. "Isn't it ironic? A medical professional, by his callousness, caused the death of another professional."
Prosecutors have "proof positive" evidence that Stavola was at an establishment that serves alcohol and then got burgers at White Castle before the crash, Spota said.
Croce said three people at the crash scene identified Stavola as the driver. He said the crash reconstruction showed Peterman was traveling at about 34 mph -- close to the speed limit -- when she was hit on her way to St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center.
Peterman's family noted that Stavola was free during the holidays after the crash.
"It would have been nice if she could have spent Thanksgiving with us," said one of Peterman's sons, Bryan Greaves.
Peterman's husband, Russell Peterman, shrugged. "That's the way the system works," he said. "What can you do?"
Still, Greaves emphasized his family's compassionate attitude. "We are a Christian family," he said. "We absolutely forgive him."
Even so, he said the justice system should hold Stavola accountable for what he did.