A Galloway Township driver who fatally struck a man in a wheelchair then continued on to work was sentenced to five years in prison Friday.
Leo Strazzeri, 43, was on his way to work at the Revel Casino-Hotel at about 9:30 p.m. July 9, 2012, when he struck Daniel Tavarez, 45, who was crossing against the light on Route 30 at Pennsylvania Avenue.
Strazzeri denied involvement when he was first questioned by police, insisting he hadn't driven the car in more than a month because he didn't have insurance, Superior Court Judge Michael Donio said in court. But his father told investigators Strazzeri had driven him to an appointment that morning.
Video surveillance shows Strazzeri hit his brakes before striking Tavarez, then the car spun around, came to a stop before driving off, Donio said.
Assistant Prosecutor Seth Levy agreed the accident was not Strazzeri's fault. But not stopping was.
"It's basic human decency," he said. "When you're involved in an accident, you pull over."
Levy also called Strazzeri’s driving record “abysmal.”
Strazzeri said he believes he was in shock.
"I wish I could have just made that phone call," he told the court. "I guess it's too late."
When he pleaded guilty last month, Strazzeri said he didn't know he had hit a person. But Levy said there were pieces of Tavarez's wheelchair stuck in the car when Strazzeri parked it at Atlantic and Maryland avenues and ran to work.
A witness at the fatal scene took down the license plate number, which was tracked to Strazzeri's home. His parents were told of the crash, and when police came to the Revel, Strazzeri agreed to blood and alcohol tests, which showed he had no drugs or alcohol in his system.
Strazzeri's attorney, Christina Workman, said Strazzeri is the sole caregiver for two of his four children, whose mother "chose addiction over her kids.
But outside the courtroom, Strazzeri's estranged wife, Lauren Strazzeri, said that is untrue and that the two have joint custody.
The woman said she is an epileptic, not an addict, and has had the children with her full-time since Monday, when her husband dropped them off. She is now seeking full custody.
"I have no hesitancy in concluding he is remorseful," Donio said before imposing sentence. "(It was) a bad decision he made on the spur of the moment that evening."
But a message has to be sent that anyone involved in a crash needs to stop, the judge said.
"Those seconds or minutes, whatever it takes (to get help to a victim), could be the difference between life and death," he said.
There is no minimum term of service for the sentence, and Donio said Strazzeri could apply for release under the intensive supervision program, or ISP. But it was unclear whether his case could qualify.
The 24-hour monitoring system is offered to nonviolent offenders and is more restrictive than an ankle bracelet. The decision is made by a probation team and a three-judge panel.
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