A retired police officer who left the scene of a Levittown crash that killed a 13-year-old special-needs girl has pleaded guilty in connection with the case.
Michael Elardo, a 48-year-old former NYPD officer, previously had pleaded not guilty in Nassau County Court to leaving the scene of a fatal crash.
His attorney, Michael DerGarabedian, previously had said the Syosset man wasn't intoxicated at the time of the June crash on Hempstead Turnpike and believed he had hit a construction barrel.
Bryanna Soplin, who had Down syndrome, died after apparently wandering away from home in what her family said might have been an attempt to visit her grandfather.
Her mother, Jennifer Curuchaga, 33, of Levittown, had criticized Elardo for his earlier not-guilty plea, saying he didn't even look her in the eyes in court to at least try to say he was sorry.
But after pleading guilty Wednesday, Elardo approached Curuchaga before leaving the courtroom and apologized to her. As he spoke, Patricia Curuchaga, Bryanna's grandmother, showed him photos of the little girl as both women cried.
"I just wanted to say that there's nothing I can do to reverse what happened. And I went over to her and I just wanted to tell her my regret, and I apologized to her. And her mother was showing me photos of the baby and I just couldn't imagine losing a child of my own. I hope that and I pray that they could find some closure today with me coming in and admitting I'm guilty," Elardo said after court.
"It's been very hard for me and my family, but it doesn't compare to the suffering that I'm sure she's going through, losing her daughter. And my children are not gonna be with me for a while, but she's never gonna have her daughter with her . . . I just hope my children can learn to take responsibility for their actions by watching what happened," he said.
Prosecutors had charged Elardo with a felony count of leaving the scene of a fatal crash, also saying they had "credible information" he'd been drinking alcohol at two places before it happened.
But DerGarabedian had said Elardo contacted police within 10 hours after hearing news reports of the crash. The attorney said the divorced father of four was a decorated cop before retiring on a disability pension.
In court Wednesday morning, the judge said he would sentence Elardo to 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison after prosecutors had asked for the maximum of 2 1/3 years to 7 years.