A wrong-way driver who crashed into and killed an Aquebogue man in a 2015 collision on Sunrise Highway in Yaphank was convicted Monday of manslaughter and driving while intoxicated, but was acquitted of second-degree murder by depraved indifference and reckless endangerment.
Christopher O’Brien, 56, of Port Jefferson Station faces up to 15 years in prison when he is sentenced Nov. 30 before Supreme Court Judge Fernando Camacho, according to Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota.
Mr. O’Brien was arrested on Dec. 23, 2015 after driving a 2010 Toyota Corolla eastbound in the westbound lanes of Sunrise Highway and crashing head-on into a 2007 Audi being driven by Thomas D’Eletto, 57, of Aquebogue.
Mr. D’Eletto was pronounced dead at the scene, according to police.
He was on his way to work in Nassau County, where he worked as a civl engineering inspector for Dvirka & Bartilucci in Woodbury.
Scott Gross, the attorney for Mr. O’Brien, said in an interview Monday that there was no disputing that his client was intoxicated, but that he disagreed with the murder charge.
“We’re satisfied that Mr. O’Brien was acquitted of the murder charge,” he said. “It’s a just and fair verdict. It’s the verdict we’ve been fighting for since the beginning.”
Asked about the murder indictment, he said, “It should have never been charged as a murder case. I just think that anytime there’s a vehicular charge, the decision to charge murder should be used extremely sparingly. The facts in this particular case did not rise to the level of murder.”
Mr. O’Brien was initially charged with DWI after the crash and he was taken to a nearby hospital. His blood alcohol level was .17, more than double the .08 legal threshold for DWI, officials said at the time, adding that Mr. O’Brien’s blood also showed the presence of cocaine.
Mr. Spota said another motorist reported seeing Mr. O’Brien drive into oncoming traffic three times about 20 minutes before he crashed, and several drivers reported having to go onto the center median or the road shoulder to avoid being hit by Mr. O’Brien, according to Mr. Spota.
In March 2016, Mr. O’Brien was indicted by a Suffolk Grand Jury on charges of second-degree murder by depraved indifference, along with more than 20 other charges including aggravated vehicular homicide, second-degree manslaughter and first-degree reckless endangerment.
A non-jury trial before state Judge Camacho begin Oct. 10 and ended Friday, with a ruling coming Monday. The decision to have a non-jury trial was made by the defendant, officials said.
Mr. O’Brien was also convicted of vehicular manslaughter as part of the verdict, according to the DA.
Relatives of Mr. D’Eletto could not be reached for comment.
Photo caption: Christopher O’Brien.