The 71-year-old Greenport man accused of being drunk behind the wheel before swerving into oncoming traffic and striking another car, killing its passenger on Dec. 6 had a blood alcohol level over twice the legal limit, an assistant district attorney said in Southold Town Justice Court Tuesday.
A lawyer for John Costello, a longtime dockbuilder in Greenport who owns Costello Marine, told Town Justice Rudolph Bruer that Mr. Costello had been drinking before the accident on Main Road in Greenport. But, the lawyer, William Keahon, said Mr. Costello “only had two beers over a 90-minute period.”
Mr. Costello was driving a 2008 Chevy pickup truck eastbound on Main Road shortly before 7 p.m. on Saturday Dec. 5 when he crossed into the westbound lane and hit an oncoming 2006 Honda driven by 22-year-old Oseas Ramirez, according to the police accident report.
Bartalone Miguel, 32, and also of Peconic, was riding in the passenger seat and was taken to Eastern Long Island Hospital, where he later died of his injuries.
On Tuesday, Mr. Keahon, a well-known Suffolk County attorney who has offices in Hauppauge, said Mr. Costello was not at fault in the two-car crash, indicating it was the driver who had crossed a double-yellow line.
“My client is not at fault,” Mr. Keahon told the judge, also noting that Mr. Ramirez was allegedly driving without a license at the time of the accident.
In an interview last week describing the crash, Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said Mr. Ramirez had swerved to his left, across the roadway, in an attempt to avoid Mr. Costello’s oncoming truck, which had cross the roadway.
“That’s why they hit on the passenger side and not the driver’s side,” Chief Flatley said.
Judge Bruer kept bail for Mr. Costello at $250, despite a plea from the ADA, Elizabeth Miller, to increase it to $100,000.
She said that the defendant has the financial means to flee.
“We are facing a misdemeanor charge,” Mr. Keahon said.
He also told the judge that if Mr. Costello is convicted as a first-time offender, he should get a reduced charge of driving while impaired and be sentenced to community service. Mr. Keahon also spoke to his client’s character, stating his involvement as a former Village Board member who has also constructed more than 87 units of affordable housing for local residents’ struggling financially.
“He has done nothing but donate time to the community,” Mr. Keahon said.
Judge Bruer said during the proceeding that he considers Mr. Costello “a good friend,” of nearly 40 years.
“There is no doubt in my mind that he will continue to return to court,” he said.
The judge also said there is a “good possibility” that he will recuse himself from any further involvement in the case.
Ms. Miller said that Mr. Costello’s blood alcohol content at the time of the crash was 0.17 — just more than twice the legal limit of 0.08.
Mr. Keahon said Mr. Costello had been drinking at Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. in Peconic and was en route to his Greenport home at the time of the crash.
He also said Mr. Costello broke his neck in the crash. Mr. Costello appeared at Tuesday’s arraignment using a walker.
Mr. Miguel was a married father of one son who had worked for the past six years at Pelligrini Winery & Vineyard in Cutchogue.
After his death, Mr. Miquel was described by a fellow employee as kindhearted and hardworking.
Mr. Costello entered a not guilty plea and is due back in court Jan. 30.
Shielded by Mr. Keahon and family members, Mr. Costello avoided reporters as he walked out of the courtroom, ignoring request for comment.
Mr. Keahon also declined to speak to the press on behalf of his client.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 1:50 p.m.