Kathleen D’Eletto remembered her husband Thomas as a quiet and humble man in a tearful courtroom speech Wednesday.
They had been married more than 30 years when in 2015, a wrong-way driver crashed into Mr. D’Eletto on Sunrise Highway, killing the Aquebogue man on his morning drive to work.
“He was a dedicated, hardworking man and I will never recover emotionally,” Ms. D’Eletto said.
The driver responsible for Mr. D’Eletto’s death, Christopher O’Brien, was sentenced Wednesday to the maximum of 5 to 15 years by Judge Fernando Camacho in Suffolk County District Court in Central Islip. Mr. O’Brien, 56, of Port Jefferson Station, was convicted of manslaughter and driving while intoxicated in October for his role in the fatal crash, but was acquitted of second-degree murder by depraved indifference and reckless endangerment.
More than a dozen family members of Mr. D’Eletto filled the courtroom for the sentencing Wednesday, including his son Michael and daughter Christina Wesnofske.
“I’ve been mourning the life of my own identity, and I will never drive on Sunrise Highway again,” Ms. D’Eletto said. “Each second I knew I could count on my husband, but now I’m alone, not by my choice but by someone else’s.”
In a statement to Mr. D’Eletto’s family, Mr. O’Brien — who police said had a blood alcohol level of .17, more than double the legal limit of .08, along with levels of cocaine at the time of the crash — tearfully apologized for his mistakes.
“I take full responsibility,” he said. “I’ve used my time in incarceration productively, by going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and Bible study.”
Ms. Wesnofske found out she was pregnant with her second child in May 2016, and expressed her sadness that her father will never know his grandson. She named him Thomas in his honor. She recalled her brother Michael having to identify her father’s body on Christmas Day 2015 and how Christmas will never be a time of happiness for their family again.
“On Christmas Eve 2015, we were supposed to be celebrating my baby’s first Christmas, but instead we picked out my father’s casket and wrote a eulogy,” Ms. Wesnofske said in her statement.
She implored Judge Camacho to give Mr. O’Brien the maximum sentence.
“My parents will never retire together, my own children will never know their grandfather,” she said. “He’s dead and you killed him.”
The D’Elettos had three children, one of whom died eight years ago when he was 13 years old.
Marc Lindemann, assistant district attorney, referred back to the trial where witnesses recalled Mr. O’Brien “terrorizing” multiple roads by driving the wrong way. He said he could have killed several different people, and ultimately killed Mr. D’Eletto. He asked the judge to give him the maximum sentence.
“When he learned he had killed another human being, his thoughts did not go out to the family,” Mr. Lindemann said.
Mr. O’Brien’s attorney said he knows he deserve to be punished, but asked the judge to take his military service into consideration. He said he was in the U.S. Army and was injured in a parachuting accident, leaving Mr. O’Brien addicted to painkillers. He also took care of his mother before the accident.
Judge Camacho said the fact that Mr. O’Brien is a veteran is not significant in this case, calling him disgraceful, because there are plenty of veterans who don’t drink and drive.
“Maybe I’m naive, but I really do think that strength like Tom had doesn’t just go away,” Judge Camacho said to Mr. D’Eletto’s family. “It lives on in the memories. I pray that one day those memories will help you find peace.”
He added that the only just sentence was the maximum one.
“There are two very different people involved, Thomas and Chris,” Judge Camacho said. “Thomas was strong, responsible and a dedicated husband and father. Chris, your entire adult life you have been irresponsible. Your only goal was your next high.”
“We’re happy to hear he got the maximum sentence,” Ms. Wesnofske said. “The past two years have been a living nightmare. We’re looking forward to the court system coming to an end, so we can move on.”
“This is our new normal, the pain of losing him is a constant in our lives,” Ms. D’Eletto said. “A tidal wave of pure emotion takes over me at least 30 times a day.”
Top photo caption: The family of Thomas D’Eletto, his son Michael D’Eletto, his wife Kathleen D’Eletto and daughter Christina Wesnofske, hold a picture outside the courtroom. (Credit: Rachel Siford)