The Greenport businessman accused of causing a fatal car crash while driving drunk in 2014 pleaded guilty Thursday morning to vehicular manslaughter as part of a plea deal.
John Costello, 73, was sentenced to one year on interim probation with another 5 years probation to follow, according to Suffolk County Judge Fernando Camacho.
Judge Camacho ordered Mr. Costello to pay the Guatemalan family of the victim, 34-year-old Bartolone Miguel of Peconic, during his 6 years on probation in order to compensate them for the money that Mr. Miguel was sending home.
Mr. Costello will also be required to volunteer for 1,260 hours of community service at local organizations that assist Hispanic migrant workers. He will avoid jail time as part of the plea deal.
The crash occurred on Dec. 6, 2014, when the pickup truck driven by Mr. Costello collided head-on with another vehicle. Mr. Miguel, who was a passenger in that vehicle, died of injuries caused by the crash.
Mr. Miguel worked at Pellegrini Vineyards as head of the grape picking crew and supported a wife and child in Guatemala.
Both Mr. Costello and the driver of the other vehicle were also injured in the collision.
During sentencing in Suffolk County Criminal Court, Judge Camacho said an accident reconstruction showed the collision occurred in Mr. Costello’s lane of travel.
That would have caused a “very serious obstacle” to prosecutors, he said, since they would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Costello caused the crash.
“[That issue,] is in my view, is a substantial hurdle the people would have had to overcome in this case,” Judge Camacho said.
Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Miller said prosecutors found a witness that claimed to see Mr. Costello first swerve into the opposite lane. Ms. Miller alleges that the victim then drove into the opposite lane to avoid Mr. Costello. When Mr. Costello drove back into his normal lane, the two collided, she contended.
Mr. Costello’s attorney, William Keahon, had previously argued against that claim, stating there were questions as to who was at fault in the case.
In approving the plea deal, Judge Camacho noted Mr. Costello’s age and that he had never had a run-in with law enforcement before. The judge also said the court had received “numerous letters” from the Greenport community supporting Mr. Costello.
The stipulation about compensating Mr. Miguel was not originally part of the plea agreement, but was added by Judge Camacho Thursday. Mr. Keahon said his client was “more than willing” to compensate the victim’s family.
During sentencing, Mr. Costello — dressed in a brown suit jacket — said he hoped to “move ahead” from the tragedy.
Mr. Keahon did not immediately provide comment on the case. Civil litigation is still pending between the drivers and the estate of Mr. Miguel. Mr. Costello had denied responsibility for the crash, according to online court documents related to the civil cases.
Photo caption: John Costello is led out of court in December 2014. (Credit: file photo)
Correction: An accident reconstruction showed the collision occurred in Mr. Costello’s lane of travel, not the victim’s.