Drunk Driver Gets Lenient Sentence In Woman’s Death

A Personal Perspective
BY MARCIA MOXAM COMRIE
A trio of young people went out to celebrate a birthday in Queens one night last April. They were out far later than they normally would. At the time, the birthday girl was 21 years old and celebrating with her boyfriend and her sister, Vanessa Raghubar, who was older by one year.

Across the bridge in the Bronx, there was another celebration of some sort with an off-duty NYPD detective.

According to police reports, the detective’s blood alcohol level was well above the legal limit. By fate, he and the young trio were on the Van Wyck Expressway returning home at the same time.

The detective, who should know better than anyone else about drinking and driving, slammed into the car being driven by a very sober Vanessa Raghubar, fatally injuring her and critically wounding her sister. The sister’s boyfriend reportedly sustained a concussion, but no greater injury.

Vanessa was less than two months shy of her college graduation from nearby York College, where she was majoring in psychology.

She had plans for a bright future. Members of the Raghubar family, including her injured sister—confined to a wheelchair—attended what would have been her graduation ceremony. Their tears flowed consistently as her younger brother mounted the platform to collect her diploma when her name was called.

Detective Neville Smith took something very precious from that family by drinking and driving. The 32-year-old officer was facing up to seven years in jail, but two weeks ago he made a plea deal with the office of the Queens District Attorney for six months in jail. He could spend as little as four months behind bars, reportedly.

Needless to say, Smith has lost his promising NYPD career and deservedly so. In one fell swoop, he wiped out the life of a promising young woman, severely injured her sister, could have caused severe-to-fatal injuries to their friend and wiped out his career in addition to sustaining serious injuries of his own.

So much damage wrought by one reckless knuckle-head. Vanessa Raghubar was robbed of her life and her family was robbed of their beautiful, vivacious daughter. This striving Guyanese immigrant family was robbed of all that could have been.

There is no amount of punishment for Smith that can undo the damage his actions caused that early April morning, but this light sentence sends the wrong message.

We don’t why he got such a light sentence, but it just doesn’t seem enough for someone who should have been arresting other people for drinking and driving, rather than being a perpetrator himself. He’s not the first police officer to be this reckless, but he should be the last.

Driving under the influence is one of the most egregious acts anyone can commit as a motorist. It is a selfish and immoral thing to do to others on the road.

Like any other family, the Raghubars will learn to live with this tragedy, but they will never be the same. It is patently unfair that any family should lose their child to a reckless driver—for it to be the fault of a police officer makes it doubly so.

May the Raghubar family find comfort in the joy that Vanessa brought them during her life, and may we never have another incident with an officer drinking and driving.

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