Victim’s family outraged at sentence for hit-and-run driver

07/24/2014 11:40 AM |
Celentano in hit and run

Jacqueline Celentano of Calverton is led out of Southampton Police Department headquarters in Hampton Bays for an arraignment following her arrest last year. (Credit: Carrie Miller file)

More than a year after he was hit by a car and left badly injured on the side of the road in Flanders, 25-year-old Aaron Hartmann still has memory problems, his mother, Linda, said. He stumbles over his words sometimes and has lost the peripheral vision in both his eyes.

When Mr. Hartmann gets tired, he limps on the leg that was broken in the crash, she said, making it difficult for him to get a job to support his young child.

“My son’s life is destroyed,” Ms. Hartmann said.

The sentence for the driver who hit Mr. Hartmann — 300 hours of community service and a one-year conditional discharge — only makes her more bitter.

“It is a slap on her wrist and a slap in our face,” she said. “It’s a travesty. It’s a total injustice.”

Ms. Hartmann is now vowing to fight for harsher punishments for hit-and-run drivers after Jacqueline Celentano was sentenced Wednesday morning.

Ms. Celentano, 22, had pleaded down to a misdemeanor charge of failing to report an accident in June. She was initially charged with a felony for her role in the crash.

The conditions of her discharge were not immediately available. Ms. Celentano’s attorney, John Russo, could not be reached for comment.

Ms. Celentano, who lives in Calverton, hit Mr. Hartmann while driving on County Road 105 in Flanders about 1 a.m. May 12, 2013 — Mothers Day. He was left on the side of the road for hours after the crash.

Mr. Hartmann was hospitalized at Stony Brook University Medical Center for three weeks following the accident. He told the News-Review after his release from the hospital that has no memory of the actual crash, due to swelling in his brain.

Family members of Mr. Hartmann criticized police in the wake of the crash for not investigating the accident quickly enough. Southampton Town Police Chief Robert Pearce said police “did not realize the extent of the injuries at the time.”

In the days after the crash, police said they identified a red 2000 Chevy Impala sedan parked outside a Riverside home as the vehicle that struck Mr. Hartmann. Ms. Celentano turned herself in to police three days after the crash and was arrested.

Last May, Mr. Russo said his client fled the scene of the accident out of fear.

On Thursday, Mr. Hartmann’s uncle Bobby said he hopes the driver has realized what she’s done.

“Hopefully she gets it now, you know?” he said.

But Ms. Hartmann said she felt angry when Ms. Celentano didn’t apologize at her sentencing in Central Islip.

Mr. Hartmann, joined with his mother Linda, returned home last June after three weeks of treatment following the hit-and-run crash. (Credit: Paul Squire file)

Mr. Hartmann, joined with his mother, returned home last June after three weeks of treatment following the hit-and-run crash. (Credit: Paul Squire file)

“There was no remorse. No ‘I’m sorry,’” Ms. Hartmann said. “There was nothing at all.”

She said the accident not only devastated her son’s life, but those of his family as well. The punishment, she believes, doesn’t fit the crime.

“She didn’t even get a suspension on her driver’s license,” Ms. Hartmann said. “That’s absolutely nothing. She can go on with her life.”

Ms. Hartmann said she’s been in touch with state Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo, who pushed for harsher sentences for drivers involved in serious or fatal hit-and-run accidents this spring. Those efforts were unsuccessful after the Assembly’s bill failed to get support in the Senate in time for it to be passed before the end of the legislative session.

Critics of the current laws regulating hit-and-runs have said rules on the books actually provide incentives for leaving the scene, as drivers who stay at the scene of a crash may face harsher punishments than those who turn themselves in at a later date.

Ms. Hartmann said she plans to start a petition and travel to Albany in January to make sure a bill gets through the state Legislature in the next session.

“Something has to be done,” she said. “It’s ridiculous.”

psquire@timesreview.com