CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — An Eastport, Long Island man was sentenced Tuesday, after pleading guilty to a fatal hit-and-run accident.
But instead of facing 25 years in prison, Peter Torrillo, 48, could serve as few as two and a third years behind bars. The reason is that he was sober by the time he was arrested, and the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office had no way to prove drugged or drunken driving.
As CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan reported, the victim’s family said it seems that crime ended up paying off for Torrillo.
Torrillo was charged with leaving the scene of a fatal incident and leaving the scene of a serious injury incident in connection with the Nov. 2 incident.
Erika Strebel, 27, and her brother-in-law, Edward Barton, were on the shoulder of Montauk Highway in Eastport filling her Jeep with gas when prosecutors said Torrillo struck them and fled the scene. The young mother was killed; her brother-in-law was severely injured.
“I remember floating through the air,” Barton said. “I remember waking up on the ground, trying to find out where Erika was; what happened.”
Strebel was thrown 50 feet from the impact of the hit-and-run and could not be saved. She left behind a 5-year-old son, and an inconsolable family.
“He’s taken a very big part of our family. We’ll never get her back and my nephew will never get his mother back,” said Strebel’s sister, Tammy Barton. “It’s broken us.”
Torrillo sped from the scene. Afterward, he went home, showered, shaved, and took his wife to a pub – driving past the accident roadblocks.
He had been Strebel’s Eastport neighbor and a family friend for decades.
The following day, Torrillo drove his dented truck to a Queens body shop.
“It is that belief that someone takes off essentially because they are drunk or high,” said Suffolk County Assistant District Attorney Carl Borelli. “Just like this – you know, this guy had a prior impaired conviction for driving will impaired by drugs.”
The Suffolk County Crime Lab matched paint chips left at the crash scene to Torrillo’s vehicle. Despite a prior drugged driving conviction, there was no way to prove he had fled to sober up.
Thus, months later, he could only be charged with leaving the scene of an accident.
“Peter Torrillo is going to get to go home to his family, and Erika is not,” said Strebel’s sister, Laura Marino. “I will never understand why Erika gets the death sentence, and he gets what he gets.”
Torrillo’s guilty plea brought the maximum of two and a third to seven years.
Strebel’s parents called the sentence outrageous, and a crazy loophole in the state vehicle and traffic laws.
“That’s very important. We all have to get behind them and get this law changed,” said Strebel’s mother, Maureen Strebel, “because people are getting away with murder.”
The victim’s family, along with Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota, has urged the New York State senate and assembly to vote for tougher sentences. Lawmakers in Albany are now in final weeks of legislative session.
“A drunk or drug impaired driver who kills someone may face up to 25 years in prison. But fleeing the accident scene allows the wrongdoer a chance to sober up, and under the current law, any driver guilty of a hit and run faces a maximum prison sentence of seven years – even when someone dies and even if the defendant has a prior felony record,” said Spota.
“It’s time to close this loophole in the state’s vehicle and traffic law and give us the tools to ensure that intoxicated drivers are held accountable,” Spota added.
Spota said it would eliminate the encouragement for hit-and-run drivers to flee the scene.
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