crimesider

Drunk Driving Mother Gets Prison for NYC Crash that Killed Daughter's 11-Year-Old Friend

Carmen Huertas (AP)

NEW YORK (CBS/AP) A mother will spend 4-to-12 years in prison for driving a station wagon full of children while drunk and crashing on a Manhattan highway, killing one of them, as they headed to a slumber party.

The crash last October on the Henry Hudson Parkway killed 11-year-old Leandra Rosado. Her still-devastated family came to court wearing T-shirts and pins bearing her smiling picture.

Carmen Huertas tearfully apologized, and spectators audibly wept, as she was sentenced Friday.

"I did not intentionally set out to harm Leandra or any of the other girls," she said through sobs. "If I could go back in time, I would."

"What haunts me the most is I promised to protect my daughter. And I feel like I failed her," Lenny Rosado told the court in an emphatic and emotional speech.

He was a single father, raising an only child. He said his loss has made him question his faith. He has no reason to rush home any more, no reason to look forward to holidays. His daughter will never grow up, go to college. She will never marry or have children of her own.

Rosado can't stop thinking about the night of Leandra's death. He wonders: "Did she scream out, 'Help me, Daddy!"' as the car went airborne?

Huertas pleaded guilty to manslaughter, drunken driving and other charges on Aug. 10, days before a state law prompted by the crash took full effect. Lenny Rosado was instrumental in getting the law passed and has become a vocal crusader against drunken driving. Leandra's Law, officially known as the Child Passenger Protection Act, makes drunken driving a felony in New York if a child is in the car.

Huertas got behind the wheel with her 11-year-old daughter and six of her daughter's friends after downing cognac at a family party. A breath test taken at the scene showed Huertas had a blood-alcohol level of 0.12 percent. The legal limit is 0.08 percent.

She got so drunk that other guests told her not to drive and her toddler son's father yanked the boy out of her car, prosecutors said.

She took off anyway, heading for the Bronx, ignoring the children's pleas to slow down and taunting them to raise their hands if they thought they would crash, according to prosecutors.

"I am not a monster," Huertas, dabbing her eyes with a tissue, said at her sentencing. "I am a loving mother who made a terrible decision that caused the death of a wonderful child. I know that I must be punished."

Supreme Court Justice Charles Solomon had said during her plea that he would not sentence Huertas to the maximum 5 to 15 years but said Friday said the sentence had to be a deterrent so othes wouldn't make the same mistake.

He said he understood the emotional nature of the case.

"It's not about revenge, it's about justice," he said.