07/10/13 2:17pm
07/10/2013 2:17 PM
Plummer

JAMES CARBONE/NEWSDAY POOL |  Joseph Plummer listens to victim impact statements at his sentencing Wednesday in Suffolk County criminal court.

The sister of a Brookhaven man killed in a hit-and-run on East Main Street last December stood in a Suffolk County courtroom Wednesday morning — a few feet from the driver who admitted to fleeing the scene of the crash — and described her family’s pain.

PLummer family

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Family members of hit-and-run victim Scott Wayte walk out of court moments after Joseph Plummer was sentenced to two to six years in prison.

Wendy Worytko talked about the victim’s two daughters who have suffered the loss of a father, and about the kind of devoted family man Scott Wayte was.

“How can you live with yourself?” she asked Joseph Plummer, the driver in the hit-and-run now clad in a dark green jumpsuit, his hands cuffed behind his back. “You are despicable.”

Ms. Worytko told the court she prefers not to use the word “hate.”

“Except for you, Joseph Plummer,” she said. “I hate you.”

More than a dozen family members and friends of Mr. Wayte packed into the Suffolk County criminal courtroom to voice their disgust with Mr. Plummer as he was sentenced to two to six years in prison for driving away from the Dec. 28 accident and attempting to cover up the crime.

His sentence was the maximum allowed under the law.

Family members and prosecutors said the case is a clear example of why the law should be changed to allow for tougher punishments against hit-and-run drivers.

“It was a singular act of thoughtlessness, a singular act of heinousness,” said Suffolk County Judge Mark Cohen during sentencing.

Judge Cohen he told Mr. Plummer the sentence will “hopefully allow you to contemplate what you’ve done.”

But Suffolk County assistant district attorney Al Croce said Mr. Plummer deserved a much more harsh sentence for his crime.

“He has shown no remorse throughout the proceedings,” Mr. Croce said. “He doesn’t care about the consequences of his actions.”

Mr. Croce added that Mr. Plummer should be “removed from society for as long as possible.”

Mr. Croce said the DA’s office believes Mr. Plummer had been drinking before the accident, but since he didn’t stop at the scene of the crash and was arrested days after attempted to cover up the crime, prosecutors could not get enough evidence to prove he was drunk.

“This is a classic example of the need for stronger legislation,” he said.

After the sentencing, District Attorney Thomas Spota and family members urged the New York State Assembly to pass a bill that would allow prosecutors to charge hit-and-run drivers with more serious offenses.

The bill, which was passed by the state senate in February, has stalled in the lower house of the Legislature.

Mr. Spota said had the bill been in effect, Mr. Plummer could have been sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.

“We have asked and asked and asked the Assembly to do whatever they possibly could to pass this legislation as soon as possible,” Mr. Spota said. “[Mr. Plummer] deserves to have at least been charged with manslaughter and he would have been doing 15 years in jail.”

Mr. Spota said the DA’s office is currently prosecuting other cases with similar circumstances where hit-and-run drivers could get off easy as well.

“It’s almost slaughter on the highways these days, and this is legislation that should have been passed a long long time ago,” Mr. Spota said.

Mr. Plummer, 49, of Middle Island — a two-time convicted felon with six more misdemeanor convictions to his name — had pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident involving the death of a pedestrian, a class “D” felony, last month.

Mr. Wayte was celebrating his 50th birthday with family on Dec. 28 when he was struck by Mr. Plummer while trying to cross East Main Street.

Prosecutors said Mr. Plummer was traveling home from working on a pool in Aquebogue at the time of the incident and had been drinking vodka on the day of the crash since morning from a Poland Spring water bottle.

Because he wasn’t apprehended until several days later, authorities couldn’t prove he was drunk at the time of the crash,

Mr. Wayte was knocked into the opposite lane by Mr. Plummer’s car, where he was struck by a second car. While the driver of the second vehicle stopped to help Mr. Wayte, Mr. Plummer fled the scene and drove 10 miles to a gas station despite severe damage to his car’s windshield.

Mr. Croce said Mr. Plummer used pool lining to hide the damaged car, and noted that even though Mr. Plummer saw news reports detailing the deadly accident, he refused to come forward and tried to dodge responsibility.

During sentencing Mr. Plummer’s attorney, Harmon Lutzer, requested a grace period for his client to “get his affairs in order” before sentencing, but judge Mark Cohen denied it after assistant district attorney Al Croce said Mr. Plummer had failed to appear in court four times before this case.

Lutzer admitted that Mr. Plummer had a drinking and drugs problem and requested he be sentenced to the full two to six years and placed into a treatment program while in prison.

Mr. Plummer made a brief statement to the family, and appeared to tear up as he spoke.

“I’m very sorry to the whole family that this ever happened,” he said. “It wasn’t on purpose, it was an accident.” Mr. Plummer paused to compose himself, but didn’t say anything else.

Mr. Wayte’s daughter, Brooke, spoke at the sentencing and said people had no idea how much her father’s death affected their family.

“What everyone else doesn’t know is that I lost my life as well,” she said while holding back tears. “On that night, I lost my biggest fan and supporter.”

Ms. Wayte said her father’s death “crippled my family,” adding that they are now dealing with financial concerns because Mr. Wayte was the breadwinner for the family.

Ms. Wayte also read a statement from her sister, Alexandra.

“For you to hit my dad and drive away and cover it up shows what kind of man you are,” Ms. Wayte wrote.

Melanie Stafford, who was Mr. Wayte’s niece, said she had little hope that Mr. Plummer would reform his ways.

“There’s nothing I can find on record, nothing, that shows you’ve done any good for your community or family,” she said. “Now you’ve committed the ultimate robbery. You took a life.”

Ms. Stafford noted the irony that Mr. Plummer will spend his 50th birthday in prison and said that she hopes he gets “thrown around like a trash bag on the side of the road” while in prison.

“You are marked as scum for life,” she said. “You’re scum and I hope you rot in hell.”

psquire@timesreview.com

06/30/13 12:35pm
06/30/2013 12:35 PM

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Police are searching for a black SUV involved in a crash in Calverton Sunday morning.

Riverhead Town police are searching for a black SUV involved in a hit-and-run crash on Route 25 in Calverton around noon Sunday, police said.

The three-vehicle accident, which occurred near J&R’s Steakhouse, led to two passengers on a Hyundai sedan being transported to Peconic Bay Medical Center for treatment of minor injuries.

While the driver of the Hyundai and the driver of a Jeep stopped at the scene of the crash, police said the driver of the black SUV fled the scene.

Police believe the rear passenger side of the SUV is damaged.

Anyone with information is asked to call Riverhead Town police at 727-4500.

jennifer@timesreview.com

06/14/13 3:00pm
06/14/2013 3:00 PM

COURTESY PHOTO | Ashley Johnson with her father Dwayne in the Tampa airport about two weeks before the accident.

A Riverhead native is in critical condition after a hit and run accident in Tampa, Fla. last week, Florida Highway Patrol said.

Ashley Johnson, 23, a former Riverhead High School student, was struck by a red pick-up truck June 6 while crossing a major highway in Tampa about 11:45 p.m., according to a report.

She was transported to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa where she is currently in critical condition with severe head trauma, according to family.

“She has bleeding on the brain and her left arm is fractured in three different places,” said Shelby Block, Ms. Johnson’s step-mother.

Ms. Block flew to Florida following accident with Ms. Johnson’s father, Dwayne Johnson.

Ms. Johnson, who moved to Tampa two years ago, was walking back from a Wal-Mart store next to the highway at the time of the accident, Ms. Block said.

Ms. Johnson was walking southeast across the southbound lanes of Dale Mabry Highway, a six-lane highway just south of Waters Avenue, said Sgt. Steve Gaskins of Florida Highway Patrol. The pick-up truck was traveling southbound on Dale Mabry Highway and hit Ms. Johnson, according to a report.

The driver of the pick-up drove off, leaving Ms. Johnson injured on the inside lane of the highway, according to a report. Ms. Johnson was not using a crosswalk.

A witness to the accident told Ms. Johnson’s family the driver of the pick-up did not hit the brakes, and that Ms. Johnson was pushed under the vehicle, Ms. Block said.

Florida Highway Patrol officials are still looking for the vehicle.

“We have received no leads in this case to date,” Sgt. Gaskins said.

The Johnson family is asking the public to help locate the driver.

“If anybody could just pass the word along to any family members that live in the area,” Ms. Block said. “If they know anyone with a red pick-up with passenger side damage, let it be known.”

They have created an online guestbook for supporters to share thought and prayers for Ms. Johnson.

Ms. Johnson was described as “a beautiful girl inside and out,” said Fran Johnson, a family member who created the guestbook.

“She is an inspiring artist with a great talent,” Ms. Johnson said in the online guestbook. ”She loves to write poetry and recently started using her artistic talent to become a tattoo artist.”

“We’re hoping and praying to God up above and trying to have faith that this will all come to light,” Ms. Block said. “We’re hanging, we’re just taking this hour by hour.”

Anyone with information concerning the crash is asked to contact the Florida Highway Patrol at 813-631-4020.

cmiller@timesreview.com

Google map of Dale Mabry Highway and Waters Avenue in Tampa, Fla.

Google map of Dale Mabry Highway and Waters Avenue in Tampa, Fla.

06/05/13 12:16pm
06/05/2013 12:16 PM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Joseph Plummer is led into Riverhead Town Justice Court  before his arraignment in January. He has since pleaded guilty to hitting a man with his car and fleeing the scene.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Joseph Plummer is led into Riverhead Town Justice Court before his arraignment in January. He has since pleaded guilty to hitting a man with his car and fleeing the scene.

The Middle Island man arrested in connection with a December hit and run in downtown Riverhead that killed a Brookhaven man celebrating his birthday has pleaded guilty to the felony charge against him, according to court records.

Joseph Plummer, 49, pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident involving the death of a pedestrian, a class “D” felony, during a appearance in Suffolk County criminal court Monday.

The felony carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.

Mr. Plummer’s attorney, Harmon Lutzer, said his client was not offered a plea deal, and will accept what sentence judge Mark Cohen orders.

“It’s a tough case, and it’s a tragic circumstance,” Mr. Lutzer said. “It’s basically the totality of the circumstances [that caused him to plead guilty.] … Quite frankly, I don’t think he had a choice.”

Mr. Lutzer said a desire to answer questions about the crime may also have motivated his client to admit to the hit and run.

The victim in the crash, Scott Wayte, was celebrating his 50th birthday with family on Dec. 28 when he was struck by Mr. Plummer while trying to cross East Main Street.

Prosecutors said Mr. Plummer was traveling home from working on a pool in Aquebogue at the time of the incident and had been drinking vodka on the day of the crash since the morning from a Poland Spring water bottle; because he wasn’t apprehended until several days later, authorities couldn’t prove he was drunk at the time of the crash,

Mr. Wayte was knocked into the opposite lane where he was struck by a second car. While the driver of the second vehicle stopped to help Mr. Wayte, Mr. Plummer fled the scene and drove 10 miles to a gas station despite severe damage to his car’s windshield, said District Attorney Thomas Spota in a January press conference on the case.

Mr. Plummer contacted his boss, who owned the car involved in the incident. The two first planned to report the car stolen and take the insurance money before deciding to claim the car was damaged when it struck a tree, Mr. Spota said.

The two had splinters of wood they were planning to plant on the car to back up their claim and had covered the damaged car with a tarp until they could go through with their plan, Mr. Spota said.

Mr. Plummer was arrested two days later after a witness saw the hidden car and contacted police. Mr. Plummer’s boss cooperated with authorities was not charged with a crime.

Mr. Plummer had been previously convicted of two felonies, prosecutors said. He is being held at the Suffolk County correctional facility and will be sentenced on July 10.

psquire@timesreview.com

05/16/13 12:40pm
Celentano in hit and run

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Jacqueline Celentano, 21, of Calverton is led out of Southampton Police Department headquarters in Hampton Bays Wednesday morning for a Justice Court appearance.

Update: Jacqueline Celentano, who was arrested Tuesday in connection with the hit-and-run crash that seriously injured a Riverhead man early Sunday in Flanders, posted $30,000 bond and was released from jail Wednesday afternoon, authorities said.

Ms. Celentano, 21, of Calverton was arraigned in Southampton Justice Court Wednesday morning on a felony charge for leaving the scene of a crash with personal injury.

She was then transported to the Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Riverside, where she posted bail about 4 p.m., jail officials said.

Aaron Hartmann, the man injured in the crash on County Road 105, is recovering at Stony Brook University Medical Center, where his condition has been improving, relatives have told the News-Review.

Ms. Celentano lives with family in Calverton and works in Riverhead, her lawyer, John Russo, said in court Wednesday.

Wednesday 11:30 a.m.: The 21-year-old Calverton woman charged with leaving the scene of a crash that seriously injured a Riverhead man early Sunday in Flanders was held on $30,000 bail after answering to a judge in Southampton Town court Wednesday.

Jacqueline Celentano, a 2009 Riverhead High School graduate, is being charged with leaving the scene of an accident with physical injuries, a felony.

She turned herself in to police about 6 p.m. Tuesday after consulting her lawyer, John Russo, Mr. Russo said in Town Justice Court in Hampton Bays. She lives with family and works in Riverhead, he told the judge.

Before setting bail, Justice Deborah Kooperstein said she was concerned it took so long for Ms. Celentano to come forward to authorities.

Mr. Russo answered that his client left the scene out of fear.

An assistant district attorney argued Wednesday for $80,000 bail, saying Ms. Celentano “put her interests above society’s.”

Several family members ranging in ages attended the arraignment but declined to speak to a reporter afterward.

Mr. Russo said outside the courtroom that the family would be posting bail.

JACKIE CELENTANO

Wednesday 10:15 a.m.:  Southampton Town Police have arrested a 21-year-old Calverton woman in connection with the hit-and-run crash that seriously injured Aaron Hartmann of Riverhead early Sunday morning.

Jacqueline Celentano was brought into custody at 8 p.m. Tuesday night. During the investigation, police were able to identify a red 2000 Chevy Impala sedan parked outside a Riverside home as the car involved in the crash, police said. The car was impounded.

Ms. Celentano, a 2009 Riverhead High School graduate, will be arraigned at Southampton Justice Court today on a felony charge of leaving the scene of an accident with physical injury.

“The family is very grateful for the diligent work of the Southampton police,” said Bobby Hartmann, Aaron’s uncle, who along with other family members was initially critical of the department. “We ask that prayers be sent in two directions now, one for Aaron and his speedy recovery, and also for the girl and the family; this could be a crossroad in her life.

“Thank God he will bounce back from this.”

“We’re very grateful for the outpouring of support from the community and the fine police work by Southampton,” Mr. Hartmann added.

Check back for more details as they become available.

BOBBY HARTMANN COURTESY PHOTO | Aaron Hartmann gives a thumbs up from his hospital bed to let friends know he’s doing OK.

Wednesday 10 a.m.: Aaron Hartmann’s family gave an update on his condition Wednesday morning. “He’s stable. No news is good news; the longer he’s stable, the better his odds,” said his uncle, Bobby Hartmann. “The swelling on his brain is down. He’s got another CTSCAN today. His legs all pinned up.

“He’s somewhat alert and a little agitated, understandably. He’s got a ways to go but he’s in stable condition, which is good news. We’re just worried about any risk of infection.”

Aaron also spoke his first word since the accident today, Mr. Hartmann said.

Tuesday 1:50 p.m.: Southampton Town Police Chief Robert Pearce said detectives are making progress in investigating the hit-and-run crash that seriously injured Aaron Hartmann of Riverhead early Sunday morning.

He also said police at the scene of the crash, which happened just before 1 a.m. on County Road 105, “did not realize the extent of the injuries at the time,” which was partly why an accident investigation failed to get under way immediately.

“We are treating this very seriously,” he told the News-Review about 1:15 p.m. Tuesday, less than four hours after Mr. Hartmann’s uncle, Bobby Hartmann, took to WRIV radio asking why police didn’t treat the area as a crime scene immediately.

Chief Pearce said once police received word from hospital staff on the extent of Aaron Hartmann’s injuries, “That’s when we said, ‘Alright we’ve got to get detectives on this.’”

He added that third-hand reports that reached police as to what, exactly, had happened to the 23-year-old also contributed in delaying the investigation.

Police will update the public as the hit-and-run investigation continues, he added.

COURTESY PHOTO | An undated photo of Aaron Hartmann, who was seriously injured Sunday morning.

COURTESY PHOTO | An undated photo of Aaron Hartmann, who was seriously injured early Sunday.

ORIGINAL STORY: The uncle of a 23-year-old Riverhead man seriously injured in an apparent hit-and-run crash along County Road 105 in Flanders early Sunday took to the airwaves Tuesday morning with questions for Southampton Town police.

Bobby Hartmann, uncle of Aaron Hartmann, who’s been sedated and on a ventilator at Stony Brook University Medical Center after emergency surgery, appeared on 1390 AM WRIV with host Bruce Tria about 9:40 a.m.

FACEBOOK PHOTO | Aaron Hartmann in a hospital bed at Stony Brook University Medical Center.

FACEBOOK PHOTO | Aaron Hartmann in a hospital bed at Stony Brook University Medical Center.

First and foremost, he pointed out that no one at the Southampton Town Police Department reached out to his nephew’s mother in the hours after the crash.

Hospital officials alerted the mom that Aaron Hartmann was in critical condition at 9 a.m. Sunday, he said.

Bobby Hartmann told Mr. Tria that when he and the mother called the police department on Sunday, they were told “to call the records department Monday morning.”

As far as the police department’s dealings with the media, the department did not acknowledge the crash was being investigated as a hit-and-run until a press release was issued about 5 p.m. Monday. Before that, police would not comment on the incident, only to say “it was under investigation.”

The press release did not name the victim and mentioned nothing about the extent of his injuries.

Southampton Town Police Chief Robert Pearce could not be immediately reached for comment Tuesday morning. Questions emailed from the News-Review to a police spokesman, after the police press released was issued, had not been answered as of 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.

A message was also left about 10 a.m. with Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst.

Police sources told the News-Review such a crash involving extensive injuries should have immediately been treated as a crime scene, even if the vehicle stayed on the scene, by trained highway investigators.

Aaron Hartmann’s mother, Linda, whose been sitting at her son’s bedside in Stony Brook since the crash, pointed out to the News-Review Monday that the grassy area where her son was found had since been mowed over.

Bobby Hartmann said the same Tuesday on the air.

“Who was on the scene and why was this not followed through?” Bobby Hartmann asked.

Southampton Police said in its press release Monday evening that “police responded to a report of a man in the southbound part of County Road 105 near the bridge in Flanders. Upon arrival, a 23-year-old male who had sustained injuries was found in a disoriented state.  Members of the Flanders Volunteer Ambulance Corps responded for treatment and transport to Peconic Bay Medical Center.”

He was then transported to Stony Brook, relatives have said.

Bobby Hartmann said on WRIV that since the case has been turned over to the department’s detectives division, the detectives have been “stellar” and very informative to the family.

But he’s still wondering what took so long for the case to be handed over for an investigation.

During an interview with the News-Review Monday, and in subsequent comments on riverheadnewsreview.com, he speculated that police might not have initially taken the incident seriously due to his nephew’s arrest history.

“Aaron’s has had some troubles, but he’s been doing well,” he told a reporter. “He’s a well-mannered, good-hearted kid and he deserves better.”

“I want to know why there was not an immediate investigation started at the moment the police showed up,” he later wrote on the News-Review website. “I want to know if there was a subjective deciscion made because of his past.”

He said his nephew had being “doing well” before the crash.

He also complained on WRIV that Linda Hartmann had to retrieve her son’s clothes, which he said were not submitted as evidence, from hospital staffers.

He added that since the area of the crash was not immediately treated as a crime scene, it would have been simple for the driver to go back and retrieve any evidence, such as debris from the vehicle, that might have been left behind.

mwhite@timesreview.com