A Huntington man who admitted to huffing an aerosol cleaner before getting behind the wheel on New Year’s eve in 2013 and broadsiding a 63-year-old Commack woman’s car, killing her, was sentenced to four to 12 years in prison on Friday, according to the Suffolk County DA’s office.
State Supreme Court Justice John Collins sentenced James Murphy, 20, in Riverhead this morning after what DA spokesman Bob Clifford described in an email as an emotional courtroom scene. Family members of victim Herta Palma attended the sentencing.
Murphy pleaded guilty on Feb. 26 to second-degree manslaughter, second-degree reckless endangerment, reckless driving and leaving the scene of a fatal accident. He was remanded to the county jail following his February plea.
On the day of the fatal crash, Murphy was driving a Chevy Blazer north on Commack Road when he sideswiped one car and ran a red light at the intersection with Hauppauge Road, according to a Thursday statement from the DA’s office. Murphy’s SUV broadsided the Hyundai sedan Palma was driving. Palma died soon after at Huntington Hospital.
District Attorney Thomas Spota said Murphy told cops at the scene of the crash in 2013, “I was driving the white Blazer. I’m not going to lie to you officer. I just inhaled a can of Dust Off and threw it in the back of my truck.”
He also told officers he took Xanax and smoked hash a couple of days earlier.
Clifford said Murphy told the court today that he made “bad choices.”
Murphy’s attorney didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment on Friday afternoon.
According to Clifford, Palma’s son, Joe Palma Jr., spoke to the court as well, saying, “As a family we have already been given our sentence. A life sentence of pain and grief from the loss of a mother taken much too soon for no good reason.
“All of our lives have been forever altered. We will never be the same.”
Clifford said Herta Palma’s daughter-in-law, Mary, also spoke, saying that the victim had visited her Commack home that afternoon, reminding the family to be safe on New Year’s Eve. Palma was staying home on New Year’s Eve because she lost a friend years ago in a drunk-driving crash.
“We actually spoke of it, obviously not knowing as she drove away that her life was going to be taken within nine minutes of her leaving my home,” she said, according to Clifford. “As she was pulling away, she was waving with her big smile at me, blowing kisses. … I hold on to that memory every day.”
In his statement, Spota called on the New York State Legislature to include intoxicative inhalants to current statutes that make driving under the influence of a drug illegal.
“It is well-established science that people who abuse inhalants experience intoxication, muscle spasms, a loss of coordination, hallucinations and impaired judgment — and it is also a fact that for many teenagers, inhalants provide a cheap and accessible alternative to alcohol,” he said. “It is time New York State treats inhalants as intoxicating substances so prosecutors can charge offenders with driving while impaired by drugs in the first degree.”