CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — It was a day of reckoning Wednesday for a Suffolk County police officer who now admits to a hit-and-run two years ago, and the victim was furious that the officer received no jail time.
As CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reported, the hearing Wednesday marked the first glimpse of Suffolk County police Officer Thomas O’Neill since his arrest in 2015. Victim Charles Giardinello has been waiting for the moment for the hearing for two years, since he was critically injured by the off-duty officer in a hit-and-run.
O’Neill admitted Wednesday to fleeing the scene because he panicked.
“I said in the courtroom, I said I trust in the court that they’ll do the right thing,” Giardinello said.
Giardinello spent a month in a coma and three months at Stony Brook University Medical Center in Stony Brook. Nearly every bone was broken when O’Neill – behind the wheel of his pickup truck – hit Giardinello’s motorcycle and ran over him on Portion Road near Avenue B in Ronkonkoma.
<a href=”http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2015/09/21/off-duty-suffolk-officer-charged/”Video shows O’Neill returning, hesitating, and then driving off. He turned himself in the next day.
“I’m angry that this guy’s walking away from this with a misdemeanor,” Giardinello said. “It’s crazy, not doing any jail time.”
A special prosecutor worked out a plea deal in which O’Neill will serve three years’ probation and 280 hours of community service.
When McLogan asked O’Neill outside court about claims that he got preferential treatment for being a member of law enforcement, O’Neill said nothing while his attorney said his client had no comment.
The night of the crash, multiple Suffolk County police officers rushed to the scene – including some from O’Neill’s Community Response Bureau.
O’Neill was hired by Suffolk County in 2003 after serving in the NYPD.
“Considering his exemplary background, considering all the service that he’s done, a well-informed decision was made ahead of time with everyone’s knowledge and approval ahead of time – without any favoritism — to reduce the charge down to a misdemeanor,” said defense attorney William Petrillo..”
“Because he’s a cop, that’s why he’s walking away from it. It’s a shame,” Giardinello said, “and it sends a terrible message out to everybody else that’s thinking about leaving the scene of an accident.”
Giardinello, of Nesconset, was a car dealer before the hit-and-run. O’Neill’s days may be numbered as a Suffolk police officer.
“Now that the criminal case has concluded, the department will be taking all appropriate action,” Suffolk County Assistant Police Commissioner Justin Meyers said in a statement.
Following the criminal court sentencing, the judge suggested to the tearful victim that civil action could be pursued. Giardinello said he has enormous hospital bills and is unable to work.
Although O’Neill did not apologize in court, his attorney said his client is extremely remorseful.