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Ex-Policeman Gets Maximum in Deaths

May 23, 2002
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Ex-Policeman Gets Maximum in Deaths

by Larry McShane, Associated Press

NEW YORK - His wife's plea for leniency rejected, a former police officer was sentenced to five to 15 years in prison for a drunken-driving crash that killed a family of four.

Joseph Gray, 41, was led from the courtroom in handcuffs to begin his term after he received the maximum sentence Thursday. He apologized to the victims' families, who were in court for the sentencing.

"I think he's sorry," said Victor Herrera, whose pregnant wife was killed in the crash. "But I also believe that's too late for us."

Gray, who quit the force three weeks after last year's accident, has been jailed since his May 3 manslaughter conviction.

Gray's wife, Diana, asked state Supreme Court Justice Anne Feldman for leniency. The 15-year veteran policeman and his wife have three daughters.

But Feldman said that while she believed Gray was "fully remorseful," the maximum term was needed as a deterrent to drunken driving.

According to prosecutors, Gray was on a 12-hour drinking binge that began in the parking lot of the 72nd Precinct and led to the Wild Wild West topless bar before he drove his minivan into the family as they crossed a Brooklyn street last Aug. 4.

Maria Herrera was killed along with her 4-year-old-son, Andy, and her 16-year-old sister, Dilcia Pena, when Gray sped through a red light. Herrera delivered a son, Ricardo, after the accident, but he died within hours of birth.

Gray offered an unusual defense at trial, conceding that he was driving while intoxicated but insisting his high alcohol tolerance gave him the ability to drive. His blood alcohol content was measured at 0.16; the legal limit is 0.10.

Gray's boozing with fellow officers in the parking lot – and later at the off-limits strip club – resulted in the suspension or reassignment of 17 officers. It also raised questions about alcohol abuse in the Police Department, prompting officials to crack down on other officers accused of drunken driving.

After the sentencing hearing, Herrera became incensed by the suggestion that Gray might appeal.

"He should accept the 15 years, shut his mouth and think about what he did," Herrera said

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