Jury finds woman accused of striking man with her car and leaving scene guilty

maria-lentini-court-092016

BALLSTON SPA, N.Y. (NEWS10) – A jury found a woman accused of leaving the scene of a fatal hit and run guilty on Tuesday.

Lentini is not accused of reckless driving or driving under the influence. She faces two and one-third to seven years in prison when she is sentenced in January.

The jury began deliberations on Monday.

The 31-year-old driver Maria Lentini was accused of leaving the scene after accidentally striking Patrick Duff as he walked down a dark stretch of Route 9 in Halfmoon last December. His dead body lodged in the vehicle’s windshield for more than an hour.

A Saratoga County jury had to decide whether Lentini committed a crime by not calling 911 when she struck Duff, or as the defense argued, that she was a young woman in shock.

Both sides appear to agree that Duff was intoxicated while walking along a dark and foggy Route 9 roadway when he was struck by Lentini’s vehicle.

Duff’s body became lodged in her windshield, where his neck became twisted and broken.

From the point of impact to when Lentini’s car came to a rest was a quarter mile.

In his closing arguments, Lentini’s defense attorney claims she had done nothing wrong prior to striking Duff, and that his client had been in a state of shock.

“She handled the situation as best she could. 911 was called and she called for help. They have never established that she left that accident scene,” Defense Attorney James Knox said.

The prosecution alleges that Lentini did leave the scene.

They claim this security camera footage pulled from a nearby Stewart’s Shop on Route 9 shows a figure climbing into a black Cadillac. A vehicle they say that bears a striking resemblance to Lentini’s sister’s vehicle. The car took off but returned about 15 minutes later. Around the same time, that Lentini’s sister called 911.

“I don’t need to prove where the defendant was when she left the scene. I just need to prove that she left the scene,” Assistant District Attorney Katherine DeMartino said.

The prosecution says Lentini made 17 frantic cell phone calls to friends and family members, but that not one call was made to 911.

The only call to police was placed by Lentini’s sister one hour and 15 minutes after the accident.

The judge previously dropped a charge of Reckless Endangerment against Lentini, citing no proof that she was impaired or intoxicated, speeding, or drove with callous disregard for others.

Minutes after the verdict, Lenitini’s attorney rushed out of the courthouse.

DA Karen Heggen says they never contended that Patrick Duff would have survived had Lentini called 911 immediately, but that it was about the law and the responsibility.

“The jury sent a message that said ‘if you are involved in an incident in Saratoga County involving physical injury with a motor vehicle, it’s critical that you reach out and report that as soon as you are physically able to do so,'” said Da Heggen.

But there were no winners here. Patrick Duff’s mother left sobbing at the words she’d waited nearly a year to hear.

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