A Long Island grand jury has indicted a Patchogue man on second-degree murder charges in connection with a series of car crashes that ended with the death of an elderly driver last January.
Thomas Herman is being arraigned on the 24-count indictment Friday at Suffolk Criminal Court in Central Islip. According to prosecutors, Herman was high on drugs when his SUV smashed into seven cars on Jan. 13, killing one person and injuring another.
A murder charge is unusual and difficult to prove in a driving-while-impaired case, Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota said. But as he announced the indictment at an afternoon news conference Thursday, Spota said the murder charge was warranted because of Herman's actions.
"It is murder. It is," Spota said.
Herman was impaired by PCP, morphine, Oxycodone and Xanax when he got behind the wheel of his SUV, Spota said. Herman then drove westbound in the eastbound lane of Montauk Highway at speeds between 80 and 100 mph.
Herman's SUV covered close to 2 miles in a little over a minute, prosecutors said. A surveillance video supplied by the DA's office shows an SUV that prosecutors say was Herman's speeding through traffic. The vehicle crashed into five cars but never stopped.
The wild ride finally ended, Spota said, when Herman's SUV crashed head-on into a car driven by Sam Longo, 82, of West Islip. Longo was killed instantly. His passenger and longtime companion, Agnes Gilbert, 79, was badly injured, suffering 12 fractured ribs, as well as a fractured hip, sternum and leg. Another car was also damaged in the crash.
"The black box we recovered from the SUV shows it was traveling at 87 mph at impact," Spota said.
Longo and Gilbert had been heading to a pharmacy in Sayville.
"They were just feet from the entrance," Spota said. "The force of the crash pushed their car back some 70 feet."
Gilbert was so badly injured she was given last rites the night of the accident. According to Spota, she has recovered so well that prosecutors are hopeful she will testify if the case goes to trial.
Shortly after the crash, Spota said, Herman asked investigators for the score of an NFL playoff game he had been following.
If convicted of second-degree murder, Herman could face a prison term of 25 years to life.
Herman's lawyer, William Keahon, didn't return a call for comment.