Man found guilty of manslaughter in wrong-way crash

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CENTRAL ISLIP -

A Sound Beach man who drunkenly drove the wrong way on Sunrise Highway and killed a man was found guilty of a lesser charge of manslaughter on Monday.

Prosecutors say Christopher O'Brien drove for 8 miles the wrong way before the crash in Yaphank, killing Thomas D'Eletto just two days before Christmas 2015. After the crash, prosecutors say he had a blood alcohol level of 0.17 -- more than twice the legal limit -- and cocaine in his system.

O'Brien was found guilty in a nonjury trial of second-degree manslaughter, DWI and reckless driving. Prosecutors tried to convict him on a second-degree murder charge, saying his actions showed depraved indifference. But Judge Fernando Camacho said he had "reasonable doubt" and found O'Brien not guilty of murder.

"The verdict is exactly what we have been saying from the beginning, that this case was never a murder," says Scott Gross, O'Brien's attorney. "It was inappropriately charged as such, and the judge agreed."

D'Eletto's family was in court for the verdict but did not wish to comment afterward.

Drunken driving opponents say New York state needs to strengthen laws to discourage people from getting behind the wheel while intoxicated.

"I think it meets depraved indifference, but it would have to be changed in the law," says advocate Marge Lee.

O'Brien will be sentenced at the end of next month. He faces five to 15 years in prison on the top count of manslaughter, and prosecutors say they will be pushing for the maximum sentence.

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