Saratoga County

Lentini hit-and-run defense: ‘I panicked’

A prosecutor and Lentini’s defense attorney gave their opening statements Wednesday in Lentini's Cou
Maria Lentini with her defense attorney at trial on November 16, 2016.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Maria Lentini with her defense attorney at trial on November 16, 2016.

A Saratoga County jury will decide whether Maria Lentini committed a crime by not calling police after unexpectedly hitting and killing a pedestrian in 2015, or if she was a young woman gripped by panic.

A prosecutor and Lentini’s defense attorney gave their opening statements Wednesday in Lentini’s County Court trial on a felony charge of leaving the scene of a fatal accident without reporting it.

Lentini, 31, of Circular Street, Saratoga Springs, was driving north on an unlit and remote stretch of Route 9 in Halfmoon on Dec. 6, 2015, when her car struck and killed Patrick T. Duff, 30, of London Square Apartments, Halfmoon.

The crash happened at about 2:30 a.m. A Stewart’s shop nearby was closed, but a store security camera filmed what happened: Lentini immediately stopped her car.

The heart of prosecutors’ case is that police weren’t notified until 3:44 a.m., when Lentini’s sister arrived on the scene and placed a 911 call.

“The defendant failed to call 911. The defendant failed to contact police, and when she thought no one was looking, she left the scene,” said Assistant District Attorney Katherine DeMartino, the lead prosecutor.

Between the time of the crash and when the 911 call was placed, DeMartino said Lentini called her sister, friends and her boyfriend. The 911 call didn’t occur until her sister arrived at the crash scene.

Defense attorney James C. Knox, however, urged the jury to consider the shock Lentini experienced.

Duff was highly intoxicated and was walking in the road while wearing dark clothing, Knox said.

“She’s going along, alone in her car,” Knox said. “There’s nothing in her headlights, and then in an instant, there’s an impact.”

Duff’s body came through Lentini’s windshield, “just inches from her face,” Knox said.

He said testimony will show that the people Lentini called thought she sounded irrational, as she told them of “a dead body on her car.”

“She’s alone in the dark at the scene of a tragedy that wasn’t her fault,” Knox said. “Imagine what that’s like.”

DeMartino said the law requires that a personal injury or fatal accident be reported as soon as someone is “physically able” to report it.

Lentini made “multiple calls to family and friends and to her boyfriend,” DeMartino said. “Not a single one of those calls was to police.”

She said some people who came to the scene looking for Lentini couldn’t find her, even though she was there, along with her sister and her sister’s boyfriend, when a sheriff’s deputy arrived.

The trial, being presided over by County Court Judge James A. Murphy III, is expected to last about two weeks.

Lentini originally was also indicted on a charge of first-degree reckless endangerment, but Murphy in September dismissed that charge, finding there was no evidence that Lentini was intoxicated, speeding or driving recklessly at the time she struck Duff. He also said medical evidence indicates Duff died instantly, so a delay in reporting the incident didn’t affect whether he might have survived.

Lentini is free on $20,000 bail. If convicted of leaving the scene of a fatal accident, she could be sentenced to up to seven years in state prison.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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