By Shayna Jacobs
MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — An Iraq war veteran will go to rehab instead of prison for killing a 42-year-old father while speeding and drunk driving on the FDR Drive, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Thomas Farber decided to send Brandon Connelly, 33, to a rehab program for veterans called Samaritan Village, rather than to jail for two to six years as expected. If Connelly successfully completes the one-year of inpatient treatment he will not serve time for the death of Jamil Aljabal, who was killed in a three car pile-up caused by the veteran on May 30, 2009.
Connelly, who pleaded guilty to manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, was driving 80 miles per hour near the Brooklyn Bridge exit ramp and had consumed nearly twice the legal limit of alcohol for driving.
The judge said he believed Connelly — who served two tours in Iraq voluntarily — was a caring person who suffered from debilitating post traumatic stress after his second tour.
His decision to issue a prison-free sentence for Connelly does not mean he doesn't sympathize with Aljabal's family and the loss of his life, the judge said.
"It's not that I don't value [Aljabal's] life," Farber said. "It's just that I can't do anything to bring him back."
At the time of the fatal accident, Connelly was a personal trainer at Crunch gym and a married father of two living on Long Island.
His wife and mother were in court on Wednesday to support him and see him off to a Samaritan transport van parked outside the courthouse.
Since the accident, Connelly has been "deeply, deeply remorseful" and was thankful to the judge for assigning him to the treatment facility, his lawyer Steven Brill said.
"He was involved in the horrors of war that none of us should have to see and came back a changed man," Brill added.
A woman who identified herself as Aljabal's mother-in-law wiped away tears in the hallway but did not say much say much about the sympathetic sentence.
"I left that up to the court," the woman said.