By Andrew Wroblewski
After being sentenced to up to 12 years in prison for “huffing” an aerosol can, running a red light, and hitting and killing a Commack grandmother on New Year’s Eve, a 20-year-old Huntington man said he intends to be a drug councilor upon his release.
Pleading guilty in February to manslaughter in the second degree, reckless endangerment in the second degree, reckless driving and leaving the scene of a fatal accident, James Murphy was sentenced by State Supreme Court Justice John Collins on Friday. He faces 4-12 years in prison, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said.
“My client is very remorseful of his actions,” Christopher Cassar, Murphy’s Huntington-based lawyer, said on Friday. “He has been from the moment it happened… and he intends to be a drug councilor once he’s out of prison.”
Herta Palma, of Commack, was killed in the Dec. 31, 2013 accident, which occurred at approximately 3:20 p.m., police said. Murphy told police he had inhaled a can of “Dust-Off” – a brand of dust cleaner that contains difluoroethane – prior to getting into his Chevy Blazer. He sideswiped one car and then ran a red light at the intersection of Commack and Hauppauge roads.
Murphy’s Chevy then broadsided the sedan Palma was driving. The 63-year-old died shortly after being taken to Huntington Hospital.
Murphy also admitted to taking Xanax and smoking hash a few days prior to the crash.
Members of Palma’s family were present on Friday as Murphy was sentenced.
In a letter to the court, the victim’s daughter-in-law, Mary, said that Palma had visited her house the day of the crash to remind her family to be safe on New Year’s Eve. Mary, of Commack, said that Palma typically stayed home during the holiday because she had lost a friend years ago to a drunk-driving crash.
“We actually spoke of it,” Mary wrote, “obviously not knowing as she drove away that her life was going to be taken within 9 minutes of her leaving my home.”
The incident has been used by Spota as platform for change in New York State law. Spota said he has called on the state legislature to include intoxicative inhalants to current statutes that make driving under the influence of a drug illegal. This would make it so those who “huff” and drive can be charged with driving under the influence – as is already enforced by laws in Alaska, Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey, Utah and Vermont.
“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,” Spota said. “It is time New York State treat inhalants as intoxicating substances so prosecutors can charge offenders with driving while impaired by drugs in the first degree.”