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.

Delmer Maldonado (l), Israel Turcios, and Eric Gonzalez
Delmer Maldonado (l), Israel Turcios, and Eric Gonzalez

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.

Scene of the crash that killed longtime friends Maldonado and Turcios. Video still: NY1
Scene of the crash that killed longtime friends Maldonado and Turcios. Video still: NY1

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.”

  • JTP Choons

    Goes without saying that if the deceased had been a couple of NYPD police officers instead of Honduran immigrants, not only would the charges have been more serious but there would have been no deal, dozens of NYPD officers would have attended court to stare down the accused, and the maximum sentence possible would have been handed down.

  • GregKamin

    Surely the main point here is that the defendant was not charged with the killings. Clearly if he had been then the sentence would have been considerably longer.

    As it was he was only charged with driving on a suspended license and leaving the scene of an accident. And actually 1-3 is fairly aggressive for that.

    Think of it this way – he was charged as if this were a fender bender with no injuries, and he left the scene. The deaths, as tragic as they were, do not factor into the sentence IF they are not part of the charges.

    More generally there is a problem now because DUI laws are so strict. They incentivize drivers to take off. If they hand themselves in 24 hours later, or are arrested 24 hours later as in this case, there is no DUI charge.

    Neither driving on a suspended license nor leaving the scene are proof that the collision was not an accident. DUI might have been but that option vanished when the driver took off.

  • Andrew

    Neither driving on a suspended license nor leaving the scene are proof that the collision was not an accident.

    Was it an accident that Efrin Lanfranco-Perez chose to drive despite his not having a license to drive?

    Was it an accident that Efrin Lanfranco-Perez chose to drive so fast that he threw Delmer Maldonado 100 feet and propelled Israel Turcios over parked cars?

  • neroden

    Knowingly driving without a valid license is prima facie evidence of depraved and reckless disregard for human life. Knowingly driving at a very high speed in a city is prima facie evidence of depraved and reckless disregard for human life.

    Why wasn’t he charged with vehicular manslaughter?

  • GregKamin

    When my youngest kid was knocked off his bike and injured, the driver (whose fault it clearly was – he was on the wrong side of the highway) was charged with and convicted of reckless and dangerous driving. But he was not charged with anything directly related to the injuries caused. That was taken care of via insurance and a lawsuit.

    It seems that prosecutors look at what the driver did rather than what the consequences may have been. If 100 drivers do the same bad thing, and in 99 of those cases there is no crash, should the one exception to that be punished more severely than the other 99 because he was less lucky?

  • Andrew

    If a driver does something that has a 1% chance of causing somebody else’s severe injury or death, that driver is doing something astonishingly unsafe.

  • qrt145

    Should murder be punished more severely than attempted murder?