NEW YORK (AP/WCBS 880/CBS 2) – A mother will spend four to 12 years in prison for drunkenly driving a station wagon full of children and crashing on a Manhattan highway, killing one of them, as they headed to a slumber party.

LISTEN: WCBS 880 veteran crime and justice reporter Irene Cornell

Carmen Huertas tearfully apologized, and spectators audibly wept, as she was sentenced Friday.

“I did not intentionally set out to harm Leandra or any of the other girls,” she said through sobs. “If I could go back in time, I would.”

The crash last October on the Henry Hudson Parkway killed 11-year-old Leandra Rosado. Her still-devastated family came to court wearing T-shirts and pins bearing her smiling picture.

“What haunts me the most is I promised to protect my daughter. And I feel like I failed her,” Lenny Rosado told the court in an emphatic and emotional speech.

He was a single father, raising an only child. He said his loss has made him question his faith. He has no reason to rush home any more, no reason to look forward to holidays. His daughter will never grow up, go to college. She will never marry or have children of her own.

However, Rosado said there were no winners as he stood side by side with members of Carmen Heurtas’ family, CBS 2’s Magee Hickey reported.

“I’m sure she is very remorseful of everything that happened.  I believe that everything that came out [when] she spoke today came from her heart,” Rosado said.

Rosado can’t stop thinking about the night of Leandra’s death. He wonders: “Did she scream out, ‘Help me, Daddy!”’ as the car went airborne?

Huertas pleaded guilty to manslaughter, drunken driving and other charges on Aug. 10, days before a state law inspired by the case took full effect. Lenny Rosado was instrumental in getting the law passed and has become a vocal crusader against drunken driving. Leandra’s Law, officially known as the Child Passenger Protection Act, makes drunken driving a felony if a child is in the car.

Huertas got behind the wheel with her 11-year-old daughter and six of her daughter’s friends after downing cognac at a family party. A breath test taken at the scene showed Huertas had a blood-alcohol level of 0.12 percent. The legal limit is 0.08 percent.

She got so drunk that other guests told her not to drive and her toddler son’s father yanked the boy out of her car, prosecutors said.

She took off anyway, heading for the Bronx, ignoring the children’s pleas to slow down and taunting them to raise their hands if they thought they would crash, according to prosecutors.

When they did, the car flew off the Henry Hudson Parkway with such force that pieces of it stuck in trees along the roadway. Leandra, who was not belted in, died within minutes. The other children suffered a variety of injuries; Yiselle Rosario walks with a cane after 11 surgeries.

Huertas’ family and lawyer said the 31-year-old mother of three and sometime cosmetics saleswoman wasn’t the callous woman authorities have painted her to be. Her attorney said, in asking for leniency, that she had attempted suicide three times and was deeply affected by the accident.

“I am not a monster,” Huertas, dabbing her eyes with a tissue, said at her sentencing. ‘I am a loving mother who made a terrible decision that caused the death of a wonderful child. I know that I must be punished.”

The packed courtroom also included members of Huertas’ family, who bowed their heads and wept as she spoke.

Supreme Court Justice Charles Solomon had said during her plea that he would not sentence her to the maximum 5 to 15 years but said Friday said the sentence had to be a deterrent so others wouldn’t make the same mistake.

He said he understood the emotional nature of the case.

“It’s not about revenge, it’s about justice,” he said.

“I do not understand how someone could drink, get in a car with all those young girls, go 70 mph on the West Side Highway. It’s like she was asking for a tragedy,” Solomon said.

Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance said no amount of prison time can heal the pain of losing a child.

“Out of this tragic case, we have gained Leandra’s Law, an important and powerful piece of legislation that is already being applied to cases statewide,” he said.

Lenny Rosado said outside court that he is satisfied with the sentencing and will continue to work on drunken driving issues. But, regardless, he’s going home to an empty house.

“She still has her family,” he said of Huertas. “I do not.”

Rosado said he plans to petition the parole board each year to make sure Huertas serves the maximum sentence of 12 years and is planning to take his Leandra’s law nationwide.

(TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

Comments (23)
  1. Hard Knox says:

    Did Leandra Rosado really have a shot a college? We’ll never know…

  2. rs says:

    Its a very sad story.andnthe worst part is that accidents such as these are 100% preventable

  3. xvictim says:

    RIP,Leandra. To the Dad my prayers are with you.

  4. CSI says:

    Why didn’t the guest who took his kid out the car stop her from driving off with the rest of the kids? Everyone knew she was leaving to drive the kids while intoxicated. But she will have a long time to think about it. I am sure the rest of her life will be pretty dark with this sitting on her.

  5. Phik says:

    That doesn’t stop them driving. Cutting off their hands can stop them from driving.

  6. ranks says:

    p.o.s cops gets months for killing in DWI’S,I thought no one was above the law/laugh?anyway she should have got life for taking a life& Oh yeah,only cowards carry guns except for the military…..p.o.s nypd middle finger to all of u’s

  7. Widow Maker says:

    Lifetime license suspension?

  8. My opinion says:

    I cannot seem to comprehend how the parents can put their child’s life in danger. Did you not know this woman was under the influence of alcohol? Wasn’t there some sort of indication? The parents are just as guilty as the driver in my opinion. Now all of a sudden the parents are concerned? I dont get it.

    1. Real opinon of my opinion says:

      my opinion…the father wasn’t he didn’t know…you can’t blame Lenny you idiot..he was a father just trying to let his daughter have fun with her think he knew she would be dead after that..i don’t think so…you know what you should read before putting dumb ass opinions!!

  9. Roy says:

    Sad story,hopefully this will set an example for those who continue to drive while drunk or under the influence of drugs……………..there must be severe consequences for the crime

  10. DanTe says:

    Stop harassing these parents. We WANT them to take out their spawns with them. Do we really want their defective genes to continue to infest the gene pool?

    Go out and drive drunk with your spawns!
    We’ll plant more trees by the side of the highways for you.

    1. C abrams says:

      It wasn’t her child who died you idiotic moron. Learn to read.

      1. Nick says:

        I would say that any “concerned parent” who put their child in the care of known drunkards meets the “defective genes” criteria.

    2. DuMb DanTe says:

      Darn straight!! Go drive drunk with your spawn. Just make sure you hit DanTe and his family when you do.

      Because, DanTe, even an ignoramus like you knows that very frequently, it’s the people the drunk hits that die.

      BTW, DanTe, you know, you don’t HAVE to comment on everything. We’d actually prefer it if you didn’t.

      1. Nick says:

        DuMb DanTe? CSI?

        The same re T ard’d writing style and “logic”.

        What else do you call yourself? “Professor”? “Brainiac”? anything that connotes the thing you totally lack?

        You know you’re a sad sad loser if you’re ashamed to have one consistent log on. Because you KNOW that people catches on to your stupidity fast.

      2. DanTe says:

        Dumber than Dirt: statistically drunks hit trees and polls more often than people. It’s all those “single vehicle ‘accidents'”. But than facts are not your strong suit, nor thinking.

        And being the typical T ARD, you of course just love to tell people when they can or cannot speak.

        Do us a favor and die off. Preferably before you’d spawned and further infest the gene pool.

  11. Widow Maker says:

    Instead of jail she should be sent to rehab.

  12. gladys morales says:

    somebody needs to put her in a car with a drunk driver and feeel what this poor child felt , give this woman the max and make an example of her drunken aaa

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