Widow Speaks Out After Gonzalez Deal Gives Double Hit-and-Run Killer 1-3 Years in Jail
Just elected to a full term as Brooklyn DA, Eric Gonzalez has campaigned for more stringent hit-and-run penalties. But in one year as Acting DA Gonzalez has compiled a record of agreeing to much lighter sentences than he could be pursuing under current law.
An unlicensed driver who hit two men and left his victims to die as he hid from police will serve as little as one year in jail under the terms of a plea agreement with Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.
The victims’ loved ones say the sentence was too lenient. One family member described to Streetsblog how they were pressured to consent to the deal.
Efrin Lanfranco-Perez, then 21, was speeding down Fulton Street in Cypress Hills at around midnight on August 1, 2016, when he struck Delmer Maldonado and Israel Turcios before crashing into parked cars.
Longtime friends native to Honduras, Maldonado and Turcios were out for a night of watching soccer on big-screen televisions at the area’s Honduran night spots. They were taking a short walk from one lounge to another when the collision occurred.
Maldonado, 41, was thrown 100 feet. He was killed upon impact. Turcios, 56, was propelled over parked cars and landed on the sidewalk. He was still alive when Lanfranco-Perez climbed out of the destroyed Acura sedan and ran away, but died after he was transported from the scene.
Lanfranco-Perez was arrested the following evening. He was not charged for the act of killing two people. Last August he pled guilty to two counts of leaving the scene, a class D felony, and one count of misdemeanor aggravated unlicensed operation.
Class D felonies carry penalties ranging from probation to seven years in prison. In exchange for Lanfranco-Perez’s guilty plea, Gonzalez agreed to a sentence of one to three years for all counts.
“I don’t understand how he got so little time,” said Milli Muniz, Maldonado’s partner of 16 years, who spoke with Streetsblog by phone after Lanfranco-Perez’s October 30 sentencing hearing. “I don’t feel like there’s justice. As far as the Turcioses, they feel the same way.”
Albany lawmakers have failed to fix state code that incentivizes leaving the scene of a serious crash. Though he has publicly called for tougher hit-and-run penalties, Gonzalez, who succeeded the late Ken Thompson last year and was just elected to a full term as DA, has shown himself to be amenable to lenient plea deals for motorists who flee after a deadly crash.
Muniz said prosecutors tried to sell the victims’ family members on the Lanfranco-Perez agreement by telling them it was a difficult case and that the defendant’s attorney was angling for no jail time. According to Muniz, the families were told
blood urine obtained from Lanfranco-Perez was useless because the defense team somehow contaminated it.
“They were trying to explain to us that he’s going to do time in a maximum [security] prison, he’s going to be where there’s hard criminals,” said Muniz. “We were crying. ‘We have to agree with this? We have to settle for this?’”
Turcios’s relatives have also denounced Lanfranco-Perez’s sentence.
“The victims’ families expressed dissatisfaction with the law, not with the district attorney’s office’s handling of the case, and, in fact, thanked the DA’s office at sentencing,” a Gonzalez spokesperson said in a statement.
Muniz was at home that night when Maldonado’s brothers came to the door. “I just remember him saying, ‘They killed him,’ and I lost it,” she said. “I didn’t even ask how he was killed, or who did it. I was at the scene screaming my head off when they put a white sheet over him.”
Muniz, a native New Yorker, has a son with Maldonado. Maldonado had another son who lives in Honduras. Turcios had three adult children and seven grandchildren, according to Muniz.
Explaining Gonzalez’s disinclination to take the case to trial, his staff told the victims’ families Lanfranco-Perez had no criminal record, Muniz said. He turned himself in, prosecutors said, and there was no evidence of drug use or intoxication.
“I’m sure he’s going to go up for parole once he makes one year,” said Muniz, “and the maximum is three years. And then after that, what? Nothing?”
“I understand that no matter what they decided it’s not going to bring Delmer back,” she said. “But what makes you think that’s going to teach him never to drive with a suspended license? The moment he got into that vehicle, he was already being an irresponsible and reckless driver. I don’t know why he wasn’t charged with vehicular manslaughter.”
Making matters worse for the families, Muniz said Lanfranco-Perez’s defense team tried to delay sentencing so he could witness the birth of his child.
“We were like ’No, what do you mean?’” she said. “He’s been out for over a year. We haven’t had any holidays with them. Any birthdays. It was horrible.”
Maldonado’s body was taken to Honduras for burial. His family had recently marked the one-year anniversary of his own father’s death. Three weeks after Delmer was buried, his mother died. “She couldn’t take it,” said Muniz.
Muniz’s son Leo, 13, has autism and is in counseling due to his father’s absence.
“It’s been a rough year,” Muniz said. “You put on a face, but I was numb to everything.”