Six Months in Jail and Five-Year License Suspension for SI Hit-and-Run Killer

The speeding hit-and-run killer of a Staten Island woman who died protecting her grandchild has been sentenced to six months in jail and a five-year license suspension, as the result of a plea deal from District Attorney Dan Donovan, according to the Staten Island Advance.

Clara Almazo died protecting her grandson from Brian McGurk, who in less than six years could be back behind the wheel. Photos via Advance

Clara Almazo, 52, was walking home from church with her daughter and grandson at around 9:50 p.m. on April 5, 2012, when she was hit by Brian McGurk on Cary Avenue at Elizabeth Street. Almazo pushed 8-year-old Brian Herrera-Ramirez out of the path of McGurk’s Ford SUV before she was struck, reports said.

In court last week, Assistant District Attorney Mark Palladino said McGurk was driving “well in excess” of 45 mph when he hit Almazo. Said one witness, whose home security system caught the crash on video: “The [SUV] threw her up into the air, from 10 to 20 feet. She went flying.”

Almazo, who had 10 kids and 10 grandchildren, died shortly after being transported to the hospital. Her grandson suffered a broken leg and has since recovered from his physical injuries. From the Advance:

“He wakes up at night crying,” [Almazo’s daughter Sophia] Herrera said through a Spanish interpreter as muffled sobs rose from the gallery in state Supreme Court, St. George. “Every time he goes to school he has to cross that street.”

McGurk turned himself in to police some three hours after the crash. The Post reported that he was accompanied by his brother, who is an NYPD officer, and a second man, a former cop.

McGurk refused a blood alcohol test, a police source told the Advance. A source quoted by the Post a week after the crash said police investigated the possibility that McGurk was drunk, and noted a loophole in New York State law that gives motorists who have been drinking an incentive to flee the scene of a crash. “You face tougher charges if you stay and you’re drunk,” the source said.

According to the Advance, in court last week McGurk said “he didn’t realize at the time what had happened and went into a state of shock.”

McGurk was charged with leaving the scene and criminally negligent homicide. He pled guilty to leaving the scene, according to online court records, a D felony that carries a penalty of up to seven years. In February Donovan’s office announced McGurk would be sentenced “up to a maximum of one to three years in prison.” Said Donovan spokesperson Douglas Auer: “We are satisfied with the defendant’s plea to the top charge against him, and this spares everyone the uncertainty of a trial.”

Under the original plea deal, the Advance reports, McGurk would have been eligible for release in six months, and would have been able to apply for his driver’s license right away.

As it now stands, McGurk, who has no prior criminal history and an unblemished work record with the U.S. Postal Service, can’t re-apply for a driver’s license until he completes his six-month jail sentence and five years of probation, said the judge.

He must also submit to drug and alcohol monitoring and perform extensive community service in a senior citizen center, said the judge.

The attorney for Almazo’s family said he is “extremely disappointed” with the outcome of the case. But given the extent to which New York’s criminal justice system is weighted in favor of killer motorists — even hit-and-run drivers suspected of DWI — six months’ jail time and a five-year license suspension in a case where prosecutors can’t prove intoxication is a relatively severe sentence. Until the state’s district attorneys mount a concerted campaign to clean up vehicular crime laws, they may continue to consider such plea deals preferable to the “uncertainty of a trial.”

Maybe Almazo’s family will find some measure of justice in civil court. Her relatives have filed suit against McGurk, the New York Mets, a Staten Island restaurant and others. The suit alleges that McGurk had been drinking at Citi Field and the restaurant before the crash.