The family of an 18-year-old college student who was hit and killed by a Suffolk County sheriff's deputy when his car was stranded on the Long Island Expressway three years ago is outraged that dash cam video of the fatal collision was not included in an accident report, and they have shared that dash cam footage exclusively with NBC 4 New York's I-Team.
Billy Schettino was on his way to Suffolk County Community College to attend class in March 2012 when he was sideswiped by a car while going westbound on the highway; the impact apparently forced him into a median and he ended up stranded in the HOV lane, his family has said. Schettino turned on his hazard lights, and exited the vehicle on the passenger's side to wait for help.
He called his mother, JoAnn, to tell her what happened. JoAnn remembers her son's last words to her.
"Mommy, I'm scared," JoAnn Schettino told NBC 4 New York her son said as he was stuck in the carpool lane. "That's the last phone call I ever received."
Authorities said at the time Suffolk County sheriff's deputy Richard Tedesco, who was also going westbound on the Long Island Expressway, didn't see Schettino and his vehicle until it was too late. Tedesco's car hit Schettino, and the young man was pronounced dead at a hospital a short time later.
The Suffolk County district attorney's office presented the case to a grand jury, asking the panel to consider one count of criminally negligent homicide. The sheriff's department said Tedesco had been blinded by sun glare and never saw Schettino before he hit him. Prosecutors said witnesses testified that sun glare was an issue at the time but Schettino's actions were the primary cause of the crash.
The grand jury declined to indict Tedesco on the charge presented.
Months later, the Schettino family learned about a piece of evidence they had never heard about: a dashboard camera in the deputy's vehicle that recorded the moments before and after their son was killed. There had been no mention of video in a police reconstruction report on the case.
"If a video of an accident is present and no one is using it, what does that say?" asked Brenan Ahern, a private attorney hired by Billy Schettino's parents.
Grand jury proceedings are secret, so it's not clear whether the dash cam video was presented to the grand jury along with the accident report and other evidence. The district attorney's office would not answer NBC 4 New York's questions about whether prosecutors introduced the dash cam video.
Ahern says the dash cam video is vital evidence that should have been a cornerstone of the accident reconstruction report. While the police report used skid marks to calculate the deputy’s speed at around 70 mph, the dash cam video shows he was going 80 mph less than 10 seconds before the crash. He was not headed to an emergency, and his lights and sirens were not on. The speed limit on that part of the road is 55 mph, according to a state website.
“You have a 13-page reconstruction report and there's not a single mention of the dash cam video from inside the deputy sheriff's vehicle that shows precisely what happened, what you could see,” Ahern said.
In a deposition, Tedesco said he didn’t have a cellphone at the time of the crash -- that it had broken three months earlier. Ahern has asked for call logs from the lost phone and for phone records of Tedesco’s family members. The attorney says he has yet to receive them.
Also in the deposition, Tedesco said he was not wearing sunglasses in the car that day. He acknowledged that he was going as fast as 80 miles an hour, and said he was doing so to catch speeders who might be ahead of him on the road.
Ahern says that shouldn't matter.
“Billy Schettino’s vehicle was visible. It was obvious. It was clear in front of the deputy’s car," Ahern said. "The sheriff is either not looking ahead or was distracted."
A spokesman for the New York State Police said that agency’s investigator didn’t mention the dash cam video in the accident report because he did not want to influence his final conclusions. The spokesman said the investigator “wanted his findings to be based on physical evidence and calculations taken at the scene.”
The spokesman also said when the investigator did watch the video, it reinforced his findings.
A witness to the crash who spoke anonymously with the I-Team for fear of retaliation said he was struck by how fast Tedesco was driving, and the fact that he was the only one who crashed should raise questions about the impact of the sun glare.
“Nobody else got in an accident," the witness said, adding that he is still haunted by what he saw that day. "There were no fender benders. Nobody else hit that car. Nobody else hit the boy.”
Billy Schettino’s parents are suing Tedesco, the sheriff’s department and the county. The say they don’t want money, they want answers.
“To me, I did my job as a mom. He did his job as a dad," JoAnn Schettino said of her and her husband. "And somebody took it away from us. And I think we deserve to know why. How? What were you doing?”
Tedesco, reached at his home, hung up on the I-Team without commenting. Neither a lawyer for him, nor the sheriff's department or the county commented on the lawsuit.