Urges State Senate and Assembly to pass legislation in the wake of tragic death of Zachary Ranftle in December 2014
MINEOLA, N.Y. – Acting District Attorney Madeline Singas stood today with Mr. and Mrs. Patrick Flood, the parents of Zachary Ranftle, a 12-year-old boy who was killed by an alleged suspended driver last December, to call on the State Senate and Assembly to pass legislation stiffening penalties for suspended and revoked drivers who seriously injure or kill others.
“Today we say, ‘enough.’ Innocent people should not have to live in fear of suspended or revoked drivers who should not be on the road,” Acting DA Singas said. “I call upon the legislature to recognize that a suspended or revoked driver who seriously injures or kills should be charged with a felony – not the same misdemeanor charge the driver would have received if they had just been stopped by a police officer.”
Acting DA Singas’ call for action came after the arraignment today of a Seaford man on grand jury charges that in August 2014 he drove while intoxicated as a felony in Long Beach which resulted in his driver’s license being suspended pending prosecution of the DWI. Thereafter he drove a GMC Yukon SUV in December 2014 while his license remained suspended pending the original DWI when he struck and killed Zachary Ranftle at the intersection of West Merrick Road and South Franklin Avenue in Valley Stream.
Austin Soldano, 29, was arraigned before Supreme Court Justice Angelo Delligatti on the following grand jury charges:
• Two counts of Operating a Motor Vehicle While Under the Influence of Alcohol (an E felony) • Aggravated Unlicensed Operation of a Motor Vehicle in the 2nd Degree (an unclassified misdemeanor)• Aggravated Unlicensed Operation of a Motor Vehicle in the 3rd Degree (an unclassified misdemeanor)• Reckless Driving (an unclassified misdemeanor)• Resisting Arrest (an A misdemeanor)• Operating a Motor Vehicle Without Being Duly Licensed (a violation)• Two counts of Failure to Stop at an Intersection (a violation)• Failure to Exercise Due Care (a violation)
Justice Delligatti continued bail at $50,000 cash or bond. If convicted, Soldano faces up to 1-1/3 to four years in prison on the felony DWI. He faces only 180 days on the misdemeanor aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle incident that took Zachary Ranftle’s life. And even that possible sentence will be merged by law into any sentence Soldano receives on the DWI. Soldano is due back in court on April 24.
The legislation, which was authored by Acting DA Singas’ office, would make driving with a suspended or revoked license chargeable as an E felony in incidents involving serious injury. Under the proposed law, suspended and revoked drivers involved in incidents resulting in death would be charged with a D felony.
The maximum sentence for an E felony is 1-1/3 to four years in prison; the max sentence for a D felony is 2-1/3 to seven years in prison.
Currently, suspended and revoked drivers involved in incidents resulting in serious injury or death face misdemeanor charges carrying a maximum sentence of 180 days in local jail time.
“I want to thank Senator Martins, Assemblyman Kaminsky and Assemblyman McDonough for their swift, strong and bi-partisan support of these proposals,” Acting DA Singas said. “I look forward to working with them and this bill, and many other public safety issues, in the future.”
"Driving is a privilege, not a right. Cars become weapons when bad drivers are behind the wheel. That someone whose driving privileges were taken away can go on the road illegally, kill or injure someone, and only face a misdemeanor charge is unacceptable. Law enforcement must be able to bring felony charges against unlicensed drivers who kill or injure others. As the Senate sponsor of this legislation, I look forward to working with Acting District Attorney Singas and my colleagues in the Legislature to hold these drivers accountable, take them off the roads, and put them behind bars where they belong," said Senator Jack M. Martins.
“It is unacceptable to think that our children, families and loved ones can be put in harm’s way because someone chooses to drive with a suspended or revoked license. By increasing the penalty for repeat offenders from a misdemeanor to a felony, we send a strong message that we will not tolerate this dangerous and reckless behavior. I will be sponsoring a bill in the New York State Assembly to strengthen the penalty associated with this crime and thus keep our roads safer,” said Assemblyman Todd Kaminsky.
"Driving is a privilege and we need to strengthen the law to help prevent such tragic incidents," said Assemblyman David McDonough, Ranking Member of the Assembly Transportation Committee.
Assistant District Attorneys Christopher Casa and Stefanie Palma of Acting DA Singas’ Vehicular Crimes Bureau are prosecuting the case. Soldano is represented by Robert Brunetti, Esq.
The charges are merely accusations and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless found guilty.