Gladys Aceituno-Perez fought back tears as she read from a teal journal with the words “Be Still and Know that I am God” written on the cover while addressing the woman convicted of ending her husband’s life.
Ms. Aceituno and her three daughters began to sob moments earlier as they saw 25-year-old Brianna Hassett of Wading River at her sentencing Wednesday before Judge Fernando Camacho at the Suffolk County courthouse in Central Islip.
Ms. Hassett received an indeterminate sentence of 16 months to four years in state prison. She has been in jail since the Sept. 13 drugged-driving crash that led to the death of 52-year-old Julio Aceituno-Perez of Flanders. A landscaper, he was killed when he was struck by a car driven by Ms. Hassett as he was riding a lawnmower at the corner of Route 25 and Pleasant View Road in Ridge.
In January, Ms. Hassett pleaded guilty to felony vehicular manslaughter and an additional felony charge of operating a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs.
Through a Spanish-speaking interpreter, Ms. Aceituno explained to Ms. Hassett the pain her action has caused.
“There hasn’t been a night when I have not shed a tear seeing that side of my bed empty,” Ms. Aceituno said. “He wasn’t the only one to die. Part of me left with him … The desire to live is gone to think of any life without my husband. It will never be the same.”
Ms. Aceituno also told Ms. Hassett that she forgave her and hoped faith would help her beat drug addiction.
“I will pray that you are a woman of good,” Ms. Aceituno said.
Her daughter, Jasmin, also addressed Ms. Hassett and told her Mr. Aceituno’s inspirational story of achieving the American Dream.
Mr. Aceituno immigrated to the United States from Guatemala in 1988 in an effort to provide a better life for his family. He spoke little English and started to work by cleaning bathrooms for meager earnings.
Eighteen months after Mr. Aceituno arrived in America, his wife and daughters were able to join him. As the years went by, he improved his English and learned as many manual labor trades as he could — from construction to landscaping. Through hard work, he ultimately founded his own landscaping company in 2001, which he named after his third daughter, Genesis.
Prior to Ms. Hassett’s sentencing, Jasmin also explained the heartbreak of how Mr. Aceituno’s second grandson will never meet him.
“Instead, he’ll be taught grandpa is in heaven,” she said. “There’s a hole in my heart that can’t be filled by anyone except my father. Jesus is the only one who could cure your addiction and forgive you for your sins.”
The judge then ordered to have Ms. Hassett released from handcuffs so she could read from her prepared statement.
Dressed in all black, her hair in cornrows, Ms. Hassett cried, apologizing to the Aceituno family, explaining how she also endured suffering after her grandfather was killed in a drunken driving crash.
“I never wanted to be the person who did this to someone else,” she said. “I hope one day — somehow — you can forgive me.”
Judge Camacho also fought back tears as he addressed both parties and said he’s praying for each of them.
“The ability to express forgiveness and your dignity speaks volumes about the character of the man you married and who raised you,” he said to the Aceituno family. “I wish I had known him. He was a hard worker — his story represents the best about this country.”
Judge Camacho also told the family that while he’s had a lot of cases involving hit-and-run crashes, Ms. Hassett remained on the scene.
“They run away and hide,” he said. “For what it’s worth, she stayed there and tried to give him CPR.”
Turning his attention to Ms. Hassett, the judge said: “I hope you spend every waking moment thinking about things you can do.”
Ms. Hassett’s attorney, Michael Castro of Smithtown, expressed his condolences to the family inside and outside the courtroom and thanked them for their forgiveness. He also described what they’ve been through as “heartbreaking.”
“These kind words will help her when she’s released from prison and turn this into a positive,” he said, adding that Ms. Hassett has already made significant progress in her sobriety.
When asked for comment on the possibility that Ms. Hassett will be released from prison in as little as 16 months, Ms. Aceituno described it as unfair.
“It wasn’t fair, but the law is the law and we can’t change that,” she said in Spanish. “I have peace in my heart … I forgive her in my heart.”