A Riverhead man, who is also a convicted felon, is expected to face additional charges after causing a fatal two-car accident on Sunrise Highway in Westhampton last week that killed a 60-year-old man, according to New York State Police.
Paul Nelson, 35, who is self-employed as an auto detailer, was arrested and charged with driving while his ability was impaired by drugs, a misdemeanor, after investigators found a PCP-laced substance inside his 2001 Chrysler Sebring convertible following the accident, which occurred at around 1:10 p.m. on April 29. Investigators said they are still awaiting the results of lab tests on the substance—described as “vegetation”—found inside Mr. Nelson’s car.
He is scheduled to return to Southampton Town Justice Court on Wednesday, May 27, at which time the charges filed against him could be upgraded, according to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office. Officials in that office declined to say what charges Mr. Nelson could face at his next court appearance.
Mr. Nelson was traveling eastbound on Sunrise Highway, about a quarter-mile west of exit 63 on Sunrise Highway, when he rear-ended a white pickup truck being driven by Louis F. Spero of Riverhead. Mr. Spero, who worked as the project manager for facilities design and construction at both the Stony Brook and Southampton campuses of Stony Brook University, was traveling between the two campuses at the time of the accident.
The crash occurred when Mr. Nelson attempted to move into the left lane, where Mr. Spero was driving ahead of other traffic. Mr. Nelson was trying to move back into the right lane when he hit the back of Mr. Spero’s 2008 Chevrolet Silverado, causing him to lose control and overturn in the center median, police said.
Mr. Spero, who was not wearing his seat belt, was ejected from the pickup truck and pronounced dead at the scene, according to police.
At his arraignment before Southampton Town Justice Andrea Schiavoni last Thursday morning, Mr. Nelson pleaded not guilty to the three misdemeanor charges filed against him. In addition to driving while his ability was impaired by drugs, Mr. Nelson was also charged with seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, and third-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle.
Suffolk County Assistant District attorney Anthony Baron told the court that those charges are expected to be upgraded when Mr. Nelson returns to court later this month.
Mr. Baron stated during last Thursday’s arraignment that Mr. Nelson had two prior felony convictions for both the sale and possession of drugs. Justice Schiavoni added that Mr. Nelson has multiple unanswered traffic tickets returnable to Southampton Town.
Justice Schiavoni set bail at $100,000 even though Cynthia Darrell, the public defender representing Mr. Nelson, stated that Mr. Nelson has no money. Ms. Darrell did not return calls left at her Riverhead office.
Each of the three misdemeanor charges filed against Mr. Nelson carries up to a one-year prison sentence, said Bob Clifford, a spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota.
After last week’s arraignment, Mr. Baron declined to say what upgraded charges Mr. Nelson could be facing and referred questions to Mr. Clifford. When reached this week, Mr. Clifford said he did not yet know what the upgraded charges would be.
Several members of Mr. Nelson’s family, including his girlfriend, infant son and two other relatives, attended the arraignment. They declined to comment.
Mr. Nelson, who was dressed in baggy jeans and a white thermal T-shirt, was led into the courthouse wearing shackles. He appeared visibly upset after his hearing and told his girlfriend that he was “sorry” after being escorted out of the courtroom by State Troopers.
After causing the accident, Mr. Nelson lost control of his car and it also ended up in the center median of Sunrise Highway, police said. He did not suffer any serious injuries, police said, and was arrested at the scene.
The pickup truck being driven by Mr. Spero, emblazoned with a Stony Brook Southampton logo on its driver-side door, sustained heavy damage in the accident. Mr. Nelson’s car sustained heavy damage as well. Debris from both vehicles was scattered on the center median of the highway.
State Police and Southampton Town Fire Marshals responded to the scene.
Both westbound lanes of Sunrise Highway between exits 62 and 63 were closed to traffic until almost 4 p.m. on April 29, and drivers were diverted onto County Road 31. From 4 until 6 p.m., one eastbound lane and one westbound lane were closed to traffic, police said.
Police are continuing the investigation.