LI teen charged in fatal crash

March 25, 2008 4:13:18 PM PDT
A 17-year-old driver from Long Island is facing criminally negligent homicide charges Tuesday.Investigators say he was speeding when he got into a head-on crash on Jericho Turnpike last October. Two of his passengers and another teenager were killed.

Long Island reporter Emily Smith has the story from Riverhead.

Prosecutors say after months of accident reconstruction, they've determined that Steven Badke was going between 82 and 87 miles an hour on a narrow 55-mile-per-hour road when he crashed and killed his two friends and a little boy in another car.

For nearly five months, the victims' families have waited to see him in custody. Today, they got their wish. Now, he's out on bail.

Badke had nothing to say as he walked out of court. He is charged with three counts of criminally negligent homicide and numerous other driving-related charges.

Two counts are for the deaths of his friends, Michael Western and Daniel Distefeno. The third is for 13-year-old John Aruanno, who died a day after the crash.

"Very bright," father John Aruanno said. "He just brightened up a room."

The Aruanno's had to bury their child after he died November 1 following the Halloween morning crash in Smithtown.

He was with his mom in their minivan, running errands, when Badke crossed the center yellow line and collided with their Honda Odyssey.

The family, learning today about the high rate of speed, said Badke was traveling too fast and state laws need to change.

"I want to see accidents reduced on the road," Aruanno said. "I want more restrictions. I don't think 17-year-olds should have full senior privileges."

After the collision, Badke's car then struck a guardrail, ejecting his teenage friends and killing them instantly.

Badke was air-lifted to the hospital, where he clung to life for days. His attorney says he doesn't remember speeding and questions the indictment, though he did surrender today, at prosecutor's request.

"It's clearly an issue that rises, his conduct, whether it's criminal or not?" defense lawyer Dennis Lemke said. "What's the speed? It's not a situation where there's drugs or alcohol."

Prosecutors say they're ready to prove the criminally negligent homicide, while the family of the youngest victim killed in the crash says it won't bring back their son. But they say there's no question that Badke should be held responsible.

"It's continual sorrow," Aruanno said. "My beautiful son is gone. His brothers and sisters miss him. It's a hole."

Prosecutors also say Badke was supposed to be in Spanish class that day, but skipped to go and get breakfast. If convicted on these charges, Badke faces a sentence ranging from probation to four years in jail.