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She was ill – not drunk

By Alfonso A. Castillo
Published: September 11, 2008

As part of Nassau County Executive Thomas Suozzi’s “Wall of Shame” program, Andrea Sangermano’s name and photo were published on the county’s Web site and elsewhere after her arrest on drunken-driving charges over Memorial Day weekend.

But the Bellerose woman was not drunk or high when she was arrested, Nassau prosecutors asserted yesterday, and a county judge dismissed Sangermano’s  charges. Her erratic driving was the result of complications from diabetes, officials said.

In a statement, Suozzi spokeswoman Jennifer Kim said, “We hope that this … will restore her good name. This is the first time this has happened and we are terribly sorry to Ms. Sangermano.”

Sangermano declined to comment yesterday. Her attorney, Elizabeth Kase of Garden City, did not return calls. Prosecutors with the office of Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice recommended yesterday that the county and Newsday remove Sangermano’s photo from their Web sites. Both did so. Nassau’s Wall of Shame photos appear on Newsday’s Web site.

Sangermano, 50, was pulled over in Hempstead on May 23 at 9:12 p.m. after driving erratically on Franklin Street in Hempstead – crossing double yellow lines, driving onto a sidewalk, veering into oncoming traffic and hitting two cars. When a Hempstead Village police officer pulled her over, she was “unable to get out of her car without assistance and was unable to stand on her own,” according to police records. Sangermano was arrested and given a breath test, in which she registered a blood-alcohol level of .00 percent. She also consented to a urine drug test. While being processed that night, Sangermano “stated she was a diabetic, and last took her insulin at 5:30 p.m.,” records show.

Before the results of her urine tests came back, county officials released Sangermano’s mug shot and personal information along with those of 80 other people charged with driving while intoxicated over Memorial Day weekend. Suozzi said the goal was to use the humiliation of the defendants to deter other drunken drivers.

Rice spokesman Eric Phillips said Sangermano’s urine tests recently came back negative for drugs. Prosecutors spoke with Sangermano’s doctor, who confirmed that she likely suffered from “hypoglycemia unawareness” at the time of her arrest, “which is a numbness to the initial signs and symptoms that your sugars are dropping,” Phillips said. Sangermano’s doctor told prosecutors that the episode could have caused behavioral change, confusion, loss of consciousness and seizure.

Albany defense attorney Peter Gerstenzang, author of “Handling the DWI Case in New York,” said Sangermano’s case highlighted the unfairness of the “Wall of Shame,” which he said punishes defendants who are presumed innocent. “You will never give back this woman her reputation,” Gerstenzang said. “You will never compensate her for her humiliation.” County officials, who have published the photos and information of nearly 900 DWI defendants since May, said they will remove from their Web site any defendant who is acquitted or has his or her case dismissed.

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