Joseph Gray, the former police officer on trial for
manslaughter, testified yesterday that he drank up to
12 beers but was not drunk when his minivan plowed
into a pregnant woman and her family last August as
they walked home from a shopping trip in Brooklyn.
Mr. Gray's admission began the most tense day of
testimony so far in the trial in State Supreme Court
in Brooklyn, now in its second week. In his first day
on the stand, the former officer, a 14-year veteran,
set out to explain his claim that the pregnant woman,
Maria Herrera, 24; her 4-year-old son, Andy; and her
16-year-old sister, Dilcia Peña, actually
caused their own deaths by running in front of his car
at a dimly lit intersection beneath the
Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in Sunset Park.
Mr. Gray is also charged with the death of Mrs.
Herrera's infant son, Ricardo, who was delivered by
emergency Caesarean section and lived for a few hours
after the crash. If convicted of four counts of
manslaughter, Mr. Gray could be sentenced to 15 years
"As I went through the intersection," he said,
referring to the scene of the crash, the corner of
46th Street and Third Avenue, "I just saw this person
come from my left side. I didn't even know if it was a
man or a woman. The last thing I remember was the air
bag exploded in my face."
For 45 minutes, his lawyer, Harold Levy, elicited
testimony that portrayed Mr. Gray as a decorated
officer and a dedicated father, a former Eagle Scout
who did nothing wrong that day but fail to see a
woman, eight months pregnant, run out into
Mr. Levy is expected to take the jury to the scene
of the accident today.
In his testimony before an attentive jury and a
gallery overflowing with spectators and family members
on both sides, Mr. Gray outlined how he began the day
of Aug. 4, first by drinking four to five beers in the
parking lot of the 72nd Precinct station house, where
a group of officers who had also finished the
midnight-to-8-a.m. shift were gathered around a cooler
of beer. Mr. Gray acknowledged that he had chipped in
when another officer went to buy more beer, a
Around noon, he said, he drove to the Wild Wild
West Club, a topless bar off limits to police
officers, where he joined four other officers and
continued drinking Budweisers. Mr. Gray testified that
he continued drinking until just before 8 p.m. An hour
later, prosecutors say, he got into his van and sped
through a red light, hitting Mrs. Herrera, her son and
her sister as they tried, hand in hand, to make their
But several times through 90 minutes of direct
testimony and cross-examination yesterday, Mr. Gray
insisted that his judgment had not been impaired and
that the light had been green.
He tried, for the first time, to explain why he had
refused to submit to sobriety tests after the
accident, saying that his union representative had
advised him not to take a breath analysis test and
that he feared that he would fail a coordination test
because "I have always had a problem with my balance."
He said he was treated for vertigo 18 or 19 years
Prosecutors contend that Mr. Gray was legally drunk
based on a court-ordered blood test given four hours
after the accident. It showed that his blood-alcohol
content was 0.16 percent, and a prosecution witness, a
toxicologist, testified last week that based on his
extrapolation, Mr. Gray's blood-alcohol content would
have been 0.23 percent when the accident occurred,
more than twice the legal limit and the equivalent of
Yesterday, Mr. Gray recounted what he told
witnesses that night, saying he pleaded with the crowd
not to touch the bodies of the victims.
He testified that one witness pulled him to the
front of his van, where Andy Herrera lay trapped. "I
told him, `I had a couple of beers but I'm not drunk,'
" Mr. Gray said.
However, Joseph Petrosino, the lead prosecutor,
drew a far different picture of Mr. Gray's actions
that night, describing him as an officer who had not
slept in 22 hours, did little to help the victims,
knowingly broke the law and sought and received
special treatment from officers involved in the
For example, Mr. Gray admitted that on the night of
the accident, investigating officers allowed his wife
to join him, an unusual move, as he sat, without
handcuffs, in a juvenile detention room talking with
his union representatives.
"I was being given consideration," Mr. Gray said.
"I don't believe it was special treatment."
Finally, Mr. Petrosino said: "You've got a
4-year-old boy underneath your car and you're a
trained police officer. Ever think about getting down
and helping him?"
"No," Mr. Gray responded, "I had three hours of CPR
training back in 1986."
Mr. Gray did offer an apology to the victims'
families. "I know I will never get forgiveness from
the Peña and Herrera families," he said. "But I
hope everyone knows how sorry I feel for this terrible
The day's testimony left Mrs. Herrera's relatives
calling for a broad investigation into the actions of
officers involved in the arrest.
One such investigation is already under way,
according to senior law enforcement officials. The
Brooklyn district attorney's office is examining the
actions of a highway patrol officer, now retired, who
admitted last week in court that he had discussed with
police union delegates which sobriety tests Mr. Gray
could probably "beat."
A senior police official said the department's
Internal Affairs Bureau also planned to investigate
the case after the trial, though the official said
many of the missteps cited by the prosecution appeared
to stem from incompetence rather than an attempt to
disrupt the investigation.