Articles Posted in DWI/Criminal

Elba Ayala, a 43-year-old Shirley resident, was arrested over the Fourth of July weekend for allegedly driving drunk with five children in her car. The children ranged in age from seven months to eight-years-old. Another adult was also a passenger in the vehicle. Ayala was charged with one count of driving while intoxicated. Under Leandra’s Law, she was also charged with one count of driving while intoxicated with a child passenger 15 years old or younger, and five counts of endangering the welfare of a child. If convicted of the top charge, a class E felony, Ayala could be sentenced up to four years in prison.

dwi.jpgAccording to police officials, the Suffolk County Highway Patrol Selective Alcohol Fatality Enforcement Team (SAFE-T), in conjunction with the Suffolk County Parks Police, were working at a sobriety checkpoint off of the William Floyd Parkway near Smith Point County Park on July 6, 2014. As Ayala approached the checkpoint in her 2010 Nissan Altima, she attempted to evade officials and did not stop her vehicle. However, police pulled Ayala over a short time later and determined that she was impaired. Ayala was arrested and transported to the Seventh Precinct. No injuries were reported as a result of the incident.

Over the holiday weekend, 1,077 cars went through the sobriety checkpoint. Including Ayala, five people were arrested for DWI as a result of the heightened enforcement efforts of police over the holiday weekend.

Thomas Stavola, a 54-year-old cardiologist, was arrested and charged with a DWI in June 2014 after he crashed into a vehicle driven by Monica Peterman, a 45-year-old mother of three. Peterman was taken by ambulance to St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead. Stavola was taken to Stony Brook University Hospital where he was treated for minor injuries.

er1.jpgAccording to police officials, Peterman worked as a dialysis technician at St. Catherine of Siena, the same hospital where she was taken after her fatal accident. While heading to work at 4:00 a.m., Peterman was traveling westbound on East Main Street in Smithtown. Stavola, a cardiologist at Stony Brook Community Medical P.C., was traveling north on Route 111 when he hit the driver’s side of Peterman’s vehicle at an intersection. Police arrested Stavola and charged him with DWI.

Peterman’s family members stated that she was very close to receiving her nursing degree. Bryan Greaves, 25, one of Peter’s three sons, remarked, “My mother, she enjoyed helping people. Whether it was on the job or outside of the job, she just helped everyone.” Besides her three sons, Peterman also left behind a husband.

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota called upon Albany lawmakers in June 2014 to toughen the penalties for hit-and-run drivers. Spota stated that many drivers who are drunk or impaired by drugs often flee the scene of accidents because they know that hit-and-run penalties are not as severe as sentences for DWI charges. Spota remarked, “A drunk or drug impaired driver who kills someone may face up to 25 years in prison. But fleeing the accident scene allows the wrongdoer a chance to sober up, and under the current law, any driver guilty of a hit-and-run faces a maximum prison sentence of seven years–even when someone dies or even if the defendant has a prior felony record.”

gavel2.jpgSpota’s remarks came the day before an Eastport man, Peter Torrillo, a married 48-year-old man with four children, received a sentence of 28 months to seven years after leaving the scene of an accident that killed a young mother and seriously injured her passenger. On November 2, 2013, Torrillo was driving on Montauk Highway in Eastport when he hit Erika Strebel, 27, and Edward Barton, 26. Strebel and Burton were pulled over on the side of the road to fill up their jeep which had run out of gas. Strebel, a mother of a 5-year-old boy, was rushed to Peconic Bay Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead a short time later. Burton was airlifted to another hospital for sustaining serious injuries that have left him in a wheelchair.

According to prosecutors, Torrillo, who was convicted of driving while ability impaired in 2012, knowingly fled the scene of the fatal accident. When Torrillo got home, he showered, shaved and headed back out to a local bar. While driving to the bar, Torrillo passed the scene of the accident. The next day, he took his car to a repair shop in Queens in an attempt to cover up the crime. Relying on a witness who saw Torrillo flee the scene, investigators were able to match paint chips left at the accident with paint on Torrillo’s repaired car. Three weeks after the accident, he was arrested and charged with a fatal hit-and-run.

A Nassau County jury convicted Joseph Beer, 19, of four counts of vehicular manslaughter in June 2014 for a 2012 car crash that left four of Beer’s friends dead. Beer, who admitted to smoking marijuana before speeding over 100 mph on the Southern State Parkway, was also found guilty of reckless driving and reckless endangerment, both misdemeanors. Beer now faces five to 15 years in prison when he is sentenced for the fatal accident. Jurors were not able to reach a verdict on the top charge of aggravated vehicular homicide, which carries a sentence of up to 25 years behind bars. In addition, after deliberating for four days, jurors, were also deadlocked on charges for manslaughter, driving without a license, and driving while ability impaired by drugs. Nassau County Judge David Sullivan declared a mistrial on these charges. District Attorney Kathleen Rice stated that she would decide “shortly” on whether or not to retry the case.

In October 2012, Beer, who was only 17 at the time, was driving 110 mph with four friends in his vehicle when he smashed into a tree, causing the car to rip into two pieces. While Beer only suffered from minor injuries, his four friends, ages 17 through 18, were pronounced dead on the scene.

Prosecutors claimed that a combination of “speed and weed” caused the fatal accident. However, an expert witness from the Yale School of Medicine appeared to have cast some doubts as to whether Beer was impaired by marijuana at the time of the crash. The expert testified that the amount of marijuana in Beer’s system wasn’t an adequate way to determine if Beer was impaired at the time of the accident because he was a chronic marijuana user. Beer’s attorney stated that the jury’s deadlocked decision on the top charge of aggravated vehicular homicide showed that the jurors didn’t believe his client was impaired at the time of the crash.

In 1997, Roger Logan was arrested for fatally shooting Sherwin Gibbons in a Brooklyn building. During the murder trial, prosecutors alleged that Logan shot Gibbons over a stolen gold necklace. The prosecution’s case relied heavily upon an eyewitness named Aisha Jones, who claimed that she saw Logan firing a gun into the Brooklyn building where Gibbons was found shot to death. The witness identified Logan as the murderer during his trial. However, after extensively reviewing the case, attorneys and detectives assigned to the Brooklyn Conviction Review Unit determined that the eyewitness’ testimony was unreliable and requested that Logan’s conviction be vacated. In June 2014, Logan was released after spending 17 years in prison.

court steps.jpgAccording to lawyers and detectives who reviewed the case, Jones’ testimony was unreliable. On the day of the murder in July 1997, Jones claimed that she had seen Logan several times throughout the day. However, investigators from the review unit discovered that Jones, who has an extensive criminal record, spent the entire day in police custody. In addition, Jones changed her story from what she originally testified in court. In court, Jones stated that she ran to her apartment after she first saw Logan fire his gun, but she recently told investigators from the review unit that she stayed in the street the entire time while Logan fired his weapon. In addition, investigators spoke to other witnesses involved in the case. Two men admitted that they stole Logan’s gold chain and then gave it back to him. Prosecutors contended that Logan killed Gibbons over the gold necklace.

Headed by Harvard Law Professor Ronald Sullivan, the Brooklyn Conviction Review Unit is comprised of 10 assistant district attorneys and three detectives. An independent panel of three lawyers reviews the unit’s recommendations for each case. Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson then makes the final decision regarding each case that is reviewed. The unit is currently reviewing 90 murder convictions dating back to the high-crime era of the 1980s and 1990s; 57 of the 90 cases originally involved former NYPD detective Louis Scarcella, whose tactics in other cases have raised serious concerns and questions.

In April 2012, over 100 former and current inmates at the Riverhead and Yaphank jail facilities in Suffolk County, Long Island filed a lawsuit claiming that the conditions of the facilities were inhumane and deplorable. The lawsuit states that the alleged conditions at the jails violate the inmates’ constitutional rights because the jails’ conditions amount to cruel and unusual punishment. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. In March 2014, Judge Joanna Seybert, in a 53-page ruling, dismissed a motion filed by Suffolk County requesting that the class-action lawsuit be tossed out. The judge stated that the suit can move forward and that anyone who was detained at the jails since April 2009 can seek damages. Moreover, the judge ruled that current inmates can seek a court order to force Suffolk County to improve the conditions at the two facilities.

prison1.jpgAccording to the 2012 lawsuit, former and current inmates claim that the living environment in the jails is not fit for human beings. For instance, the plaintiffs argue that sewage constantly bubbles up from drains and toilets. Due to faulty plumbing at the Riverhead jail, human waste flushed down one toilet often comes up in the toilet in an adjacent cell. Sewage is often found on cell floors. In addition, the lawsuit claims that the showers are lined with thick mold and mildew. The pipes and faucets in the facilities are covered with rust. One corrections officer allegedly told an inmate that he wouldn’t even allow his dog to use the showers at Riverhead. Moreover, inmates claim that the air vents are clogged with mud, dirt, and rust; the air often reeks of urine and feces. The plaintiffs also allege that the facilities are infested with vermin and insects, including in food preparation areas. One inmate stated that he was served food that contained rodent droppings.

In addition, the facilities are often extremely cold; during the summer, the air conditioning is constantly running, and there is little to no heat during the winter. Inmates are only issued one, thin blanket. The lawsuit also contends that the inmates must drink brown water, making many people violently ill. Finally, the plaintiffs allege that the facilities are chronically overcrowded, leading to unsafe conditions.

Suffolk County police arrested Sarah Knakal, 30, for allegedly driving drunk with her three young children in the car on Mother’s Day. Knakal was charged with aggravated DWI, a class E felony punishable by up to four years in prison, after police said she was driving drunk with her three children, ages give, seven and nine, in the vehicle. Police stated that her three children were turned over to their father while Knakal was held on $90,000 bail. A judge also issued an order of protection preventing Knakal from seeing her three children.

According to police officials, Knakal was driving while intoxicated with her three children in the car when she struck a telephone pole on East Jericho Turnpike in Suffolk County at 6 p.m. Knakal then left the scene of the accident and took her children with her. However, ten minutes later, police found the woman and her children at a nearby store. According to reports, Knakal allegedy pushed an officer when he tried to question her. She was not charged with assault, and there were no injuries as a result of the accident.

steering wheel.jpgIn 2009, New York State lawmakers passed Leandra’s Law. Named after 11-year-old Leandra Rosado, who was killed in a DUI crash, the law makes it a felony to drink and drive with a minor in the car. In addition, the law requires all convicted DWI offenders to install an interlock ignition device in the vehicles for a minimum of six months. The interlock device is a Breathalyzer that is connected to the steering wheel column. The driver must blow into the device in order for the car to start. If the device detects the presence of alcohol, the vehicle won’t start. If a person is on probation, the positive test results will be forwarded electronically to the offender’s probation officer.

Westbury resident Kyle Howell, 20, filed a lawsuit in early May 2014 against the Nassau County Police Department (NCPD) that claims two officers used excessive force against him during a routine traffic stop on April 25, 2014. After being punched and kneed in the face by the officers, Howell suffered from a broken nose, facial fractures, nerve damage and an eye injury that will require surgery. The entire incident was captured by a nearby surveillance camera and shows Howell engaged in a physical altercation with the two officers. Howell was taken to the hospital as a result of his injuries and was charged with assault, evidence tampering and misdemeanor drug possession.

cops.jpgAccording to official documents pertaining to the case, police officers pulled Howell over because he was driving a car with a cracked windshield. The officers claim that they saw a small bag that appeared to be cocaine as well as another bag that appeared to contain marijuana. The officers claim that Howell placed the marijuana in his mouth in an attempt to conceal the evidence. When the police asked Howell for his license and registration, the 20-year-old didn’t immediately comply because he began videotaping the incident with his cell phone. After not complying with the police officers’ orders, a nearby video camera captured the police engaging in a physical struggle with Howell inside the vehicle. Police stated that the officers feared Howell was trying to reach for a weapon.

Howell denies the allegations that he had any drugs in his vehicle. He stated that the officers overreacted when he moved in an attempt to stop his paycheck from blowing into the street. Howell stated, “My paycheck started to fly out the door. I went to go reach for it, and the next thing you know, I got a knee to the face. Then the next thing I remember, I was in the hospital.” Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice stated that her office is reviewing the video and investigating the incident.

According to a study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, administrative license suspension (ALS) laws reduce the number of fatalities on the road during nighttime hours when people are most likely to drink and drive. Such laws authorize the police and law enforcement authorities to confiscate the license of anyone who refuses to take a chemical test or fails such a test. breathalyzer3.jpgThe Insurance Institute research points out that among 17 states that Have ALS laws, alcohol-related fatalities were reduced by approximately six percent. In a long-term study from 1976 through 2002, ALS laws in 38 states reduced alcohol related fatalities on the road by five percent. In addition, the research indicates that when compared to DWI offenders who did not receive an ALS suspension, drunk drivers who had their licenses automatically revoked were less likely to drink and drive and be involved in a crash. The study concluded that longer periods of ALS revocations are likely to be more effective than shorter periods of suspensions.

What are ALS Laws?

Administrative license suspension (ALS) laws give the police and other law enforcement officials the authority to confiscate the license of anyone who fails a chemical test or refused to submit to a chemical test. For example, if a person gets pulled over by the police for suspected drunk driving, that person is subject to having their license revoked on-the-spot if they fail a chemical test or refuse to take it. Unlike a traditional license suspension, an ALS revocation occurs before a person is actually convicted of a drunk driving offense. However, drivers are usually given a temporary license for a brief period, during which time they can challenge the suspension. If the driver doesn’t challenge the suspension, or if the suspension is upheld, his or her license will be revoked for a prescribed period of time. It is important to understand that the ALS revocation does not replace criminal prosecution, which is handled separately through the courts.

courthouse.jpgTwo men who were exonerated of raping and murdering a 16-year-old Nassau County girl in 1984 were awarded $18 million each by a federal jury in April 2014. After a four-week trial in the U.S. District Court in Central Islip, New York, jurors determined that John Restivo and Dennis Halstead, who each served 18 years in prison for the crime, should receive $18 million each after finding that a Nassau County detective planted evidence and withheld key evidence in the case. Louis M. Freeman, an attorney for Nassau County, stated that he plans to appeal the jury’s verdict to the federal Court of Appeals in New York.

In 1984, 16-year-old Theresa Fusco vanished while walking home from her part-time job at a roller skating rink in Lynbrook. Her nude body was found covered with leaves in a wooded area near the skating rink weeks later. Investigators determined that the teenager was raped and strangled to death. At the time, two other teenage girls had gone missing. Three men, John Restivo, Dennis Halstead, and John Kogut were charged and eventually convicted of raping and murdering Fusco, and each spent 18 years in prison for the crime. However, in 2003, Nassau County dismissed the charges against the three men after DNA evidence, which was not available in the 1980s, proved that the men did not commit the brutal rape and murder. Investigators still have not caught the person who actually committed the crime. While John Kogut was retried and acquitted, he lost his wrongful conviction case, which is currently in the process of being appealed.

During the course of reviewing the case, attorneys for Restivo and Halstead discovered that Joseph Volpe, the lead Nassau County detective assigned to investigate the case, planted hairs in Restivo’s van. In addition, the defense attorneys stated that Volpe withheld key pieces of evidence from prosecutors that would have shown the men were innocent. While Nassau County lawyers disputed the claims, the defense attorneys stated that Volpe, who died at the age of 63, became desperate to solve the high-profile case after a lead he was looking into proved to be a dead end. As a result, the defense attorneys contend that Volpe planted and withheld evidence in order to get a conviction in the case. The jury agreed with the findings in their verdict.