MINEOLA, N.Y. – After the guilty plea today of a man who killed 12-year-old Valley Stream resident Zachary Ranftle while driving with a suspended license, Acting District Attorney Madeline Singas renewed her call on Albany to pass legislation stiffening penalties for suspended and revoked drivers who seriously injure or kill others.
“This tragic case is a sad reminder that our laws need to be stronger,” Acting DA Singas said. “A suspended or revoked driver who seriously injures or kills a person should be charged with a felony – not the same misdemeanor charge the driver would have received if he or she had just been stopped by a police officer. I’m grateful for our bill sponsors and call on Albany to take action before another tragedy occurs.”
Acting DA Singas’ call for action came after Austin Soldano, 30, of Seaford, pleaded guilty today to charges in two vehicular crime cases: an August 2014 incident in which he drove while intoxicated as a felony in Long Beach, causing his license to be suspended, and a December 2014 incident in which he, illegally driving with his suspended license, struck and killed Ranftle in Valley Stream.
For the drunk driving case, Soldano pleaded guilty to Operating a Motor Vehicle While Under the Influence of Alcohol (an E felony), Reckless Driving (an unclassified misdemeanor), Failure to Stop at an Intersection (a violation), and Resisting Arrest (an A misdemeanor).
For the case involving the death of Ranftle, Soldano pleaded guilty to Aggravated Unlicensed Operation of a Motor Vehicle in the 2nd Degree (an unclassified misdemeanor) and Failure to Exercise Due Care (a violation).
Soldano was also recently convicted in a third case, a 2013 incident on the Southern State Parkway in which he pleaded guilty to Unlawful Fleeing of a Police Officer in a Motor Vehicle in the 3rd Degree (an A misdemeanor) and Reckless Driving (an unclassified misdemeanor).
Soldano is expected to be sentenced to six months in jail for his previous case in Nassau County District Court on Dec. 2. He is expected to receive a sentence of 18 months in jail for today’s two cases, plus five years of probation, during which time he’ll be required to install and maintain an ignition interlock device and complete any alcohol treatment or counseling as directed by probation officials. Soldano’s license will be revoked for one year, after which he will need to reapply for a new one. His license will also be pending a DMV fatality hearing, which is held whenever a person causes a fatal collision. Soldano is expected to be sentenced for today’s cases by Supreme Court Justice Angelo Delligatti on Jan. 5, 2016.
The legislation, which was authored by Acting DA Singas’ office and sponsored by Senator Jack Martins and Assemblymembers Todd Kaminsky and David McDonough, 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 maximum 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 six months of local jail time – the same sentence that Soldano is expected to receive for his unlicensed operation charge.
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.