A Greenport man pleaded not guilty Wednesday to upgraded charges from an alleged drunken driving crash that led to the death of a Queens woman in July.
Glenn Zaleski, 36, is facing up to 25 years in prison on the top charge of aggravated vehicular homicide. He did not post the $100,000 bail set by Suffolk County Judge Fernando Camacho.
With emotional family members standing behind him in the Central Islip courtroom, Mr. Zaleski was arraigned on a 30-count indictment handed down earlier this week by a Suffolk County grand jury.
Assistant District Attorney Ray Varuolo said Wednesday that Mr. Zaleski, who has a prior DWI conviction, was returning home from a family party the night prior to the crash and he admitted to police drinking between six and eight beers. He told investigators he was “sleeping it off” in his truck before he attempted to drive home, according to Mr. Varuolo.
His initial blood alcohol content registered at .22 according to prosecutors, who added that when he was checked again an hour later in the hospital he registered an even higher .23. That’s nearly three times the legal limit, prosecutors said.
Brendan Ahern, chief of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office’s vehicular crimes bureau said the evidence suggest Mr. Zaleski was less than truthful about the amount of alcohol he consumed prior to the crash.
“We work based on forensic toxicology here, which showed a much higher level of blood alcohol than 6 to 8 beers perhaps would support,” he said in speaking to reporters outside the courtroom. “This is a very high blood alcohol level.”
If convicted of the top charge, Mr. Zaleski faces a minimum of 1 to 3 years in prison with a maximum of 25 years, prosecutors said.
Mr. Zaleski’s attorney, Anthony Rutkowski of Southampton, said of the upgrade charges, “they’re just allegations at this time … it’s obviously a very tragic accident.”
Mr. Rutkowski noted concerns over a reckless driving charge his client is facing, saying there’s no indication Mr. Zaleski was speeding at the time of the crash. He said he also hadn’t spoken to his client about the allegation that he was “sleeping it off” before the crash.
He added that Mr. Zaleski and his family were “remorseful.”
Mr. Zaleski was driving a 2016 Dodge pick-up truck eastbound on Route 48 near Chapel Lane around 8:30 a.m. July 15 when he crossed over into westbound traffic and struck a minivan with seven occupants, according to police. He was originally charged with driving while intoxicated and suffered only minor injuries in the crash, police said at the time.
Witnesses said Mr. Zaleski swerved to the right of the road and overcorrected, crossing the double yellow line at “a high rate of speed” into the minivan. The force of the collision pushed the minivan off the road, prosecutors said at his initial arraignment in Southold Town Justice Court.
The driver of the van, You Feng Yang, 51, of Flushing was pronounced dead two hours later at Stony Brook University Hospital. Two passengers in the van were also airlifted to Stony Brook for treatment of serious injuries. The other four passengers, all adults from Flushing, were treated at local hospitals for injuries that were not life-threatening, according to police.
Mr. Zaleski’s family members declined comment outside the courtroom Wednesday. He’s due back in court on a conference Jan. 28.
Photo caption: Glenn Zaleski appears in court Wednesday. (Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz / Newsday)