It would have been thoughtful, if not wise, for 24-year-old Robert Scheuerer’s drinking buds to take his keys, tell him that he’s too drunk to drive. But then, they were his drinking buds and likely shit-faced too. And like Scheuerer, they too were cops.
[Suffolk County DA Tom] Spota said Scheuerer and other officers spent hours at a bar near the Third Precinct in Bay Shore, where he is assigned. Scheuerer got there about 10 p.m. and left at 2:49 a.m., the district attorney said.
During that time, he allegedly drank ten pints of beer, plus a margarita.
Spota said Wednesday that Scheuerer had a blood-alcohol level of 0.174 percent — more than twice the legal threshold of 0.08 percent — one hour and 14 minutes after he crashed his 2000 Nissan Pathfinder into the 2016 Ford van.
An estimation technique known as retrograde extrapolation allowed prosecutors to conclude that Scheuerer’s blood-alcohol level was 0.19 percent at the time of impact. The threshold to prove aggravated vehicular homicide is 0.18 percent.
As an aside, the silliness of using an “estimation technique,” of extremely dubious merit, to “raise” the allegation from .18 to .19 reflects the bizarre prosecutorial need to gild the lily. A blood alcohol content of .18 is more than sufficient to make their case, but they just can’t leave it to the facts to do their job, as if the facts weren’t bad enough.
Assistant District Attorney Marc Lindemann said Scheuerer’s sport utility vehicle collided with a van driven by Brian J. Fusaro, 37, of Bay Shore. The van exploded and Fusaro, who was on his way to work, burned to death.
The crash happened two hours later. Spota, who declined to name the bar, said Scheuerer went the wrong way on Sunrise Highway — driving west in the eastbound lanes — for probably less than two miles.
Scheuerer was charged with aggravated vehicular homicide, which sounds pretty serious, and it is, though it’s not nearly as serious as Murder 2, the crime for which Martin Heidgen was convicted and Christopher O’Brien, 55, stands currently accused. O’Brien, it should be noted, was not a cop.
Prosecutors say O’Brien, on Dec. 23, 2015, drove seven miles the wrong way on Sunrise Highway and numerous motorists tried to warn him before he crashed, killing another motorist, Thomas D’Eletto, 57, of Aquebogue.
Spota said the unheeded warnings were evidence of depraved indifference to human life, necessary for a murder charge. O’Brien is awaiting trial on second-degree murder and other charges.
To the unaware reader, that sounds almost reasonable. So, too, to the reporter, apparently, who was unaware that the Court of Appeals decision held that the mental state of “depraved indifference,” the basis for a murder charge, could arise at the time the defendant chose to get blind drunk and still decided to drive.
Beyond the tragedy that ensued from Scheuerer’s conduct, in which he lost a leg as well, there remain the questions of what his drinking buddies failed to do when one of their own was about to commit a crime. Did they stop him? Take away his keys? Are they relieved of any expectation to behave in a manner to protect others because they, too, were drunk? Or off-duty? Or dealing with a brother officer, who gets a courtesy pass on driving drunk, putting other people’s lives at risk?
Where is the tipping point of cops risking lives, in this case taking a life, when they engage in the same risky behavior they will happily bust you for?
But that’s not the only secondary question raised here. Much as Scheuerer’s drunk driving resulted in a life lost, the other cops, his pals, were drinking too. Presumably, they were at best merely a bit tipsy, which is the only explanation for their allowing one of their own to go out and kill, if not similarly shit-faced.
Just as Scheuerer had to drive his car down Sunrise Highway, even if in the wrong lanes with opposing traffic, so too did his drinking buddies have to make it home from the bar. Suffolk County isn’t a walking community. People drive. Cops drive. Everybody drives. Presumably, Scheuerer’s cop pals drove home from the bar as well.
Just because the other police officers who were drinking with Scheuerer, who neglected to stop him from driving, managed to make it home without killing anyone doesn’t change the core nature of the crime. The offense of drunk driving isn’t dictated by kismet. You commit the crime when you turn the key, not when you kill someone. While the latter is an aggravating factor for the degree of the charge and sentence, it’s of no significance to the conduct that gives rise to the offense. It is purely luck that a drunk driver makes it home safely to sleep it off and go to work the next day as if nothing happened.
When that lucky drinker and driver happens to be a cop, all is forgotten. Except when there is a dead guy who can’t be ignored, and then it’s serious, even if not quite as serious as it would have been had the drunk driver not carried a shield.