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May 6, 2009 12:31 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Police make arrest in fatal accident on Sunrise Highway in Westhampton

May 6, 2009 12:31 PM

A Riverhead man, who is also a convicted felon, is expected to face additional charges after causing a fatal two-car accident on Sunrise Highway in Westhampton last week that killed a 60-year-old man, according to New York State Police.

Paul Nelson, 35, who is self-employed as an auto detailer, was arrested and charged with driving while his ability was impaired by drugs, a misdemeanor, after investigators found a PCP-laced substance inside his 2001 Chrysler Sebring convertible following the accident, which occurred at around 1:10 p.m. on April 29. Investigators said they are still awaiting the results of lab tests on the substance—described as “vegetation”—found inside Mr. Nelson’s car.

He is scheduled to return to Southampton Town Justice Court on Wednesday, May 27, at which time the charges filed against him could be upgraded, according to the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office. Officials in that office declined to say what charges Mr. Nelson could face at his next court appearance.

Mr. Nelson was traveling eastbound on Sunrise Highway, about a quarter-mile west of exit 63 on Sunrise Highway, when he rear-ended a white pickup truck being driven by Louis F. Spero of Riverhead. Mr. Spero, who worked as the project manager for facilities design and construction at both the Stony Brook and Southampton campuses of Stony Brook University, was traveling between the two campuses at the time of the accident.

The crash occurred when Mr. Nelson attempted to move into the left lane, where Mr. Spero was driving ahead of other traffic. Mr. Nelson was trying to move back into the right lane when he hit the back of Mr. Spero’s 2008 Chevrolet Silverado, causing him to lose control and overturn in the center median, police said.

Mr. Spero, who was not wearing his seat belt, was ejected from the pickup truck and pronounced dead at the scene, according to police.

At his arraignment before Southampton Town Justice Andrea Schiavoni last Thursday morning, Mr. Nelson pleaded not guilty to the three misdemeanor charges filed against him. In addition to driving while his ability was impaired by drugs, Mr. Nelson was also charged with seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, and third-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle.

Suffolk County Assistant District attorney Anthony Baron told the court that those charges are expected to be upgraded when Mr. Nelson returns to court later this month.

Mr. Baron stated during last Thursday’s arraignment that Mr. Nelson had two prior felony convictions for both the sale and possession of drugs. Justice Schiavoni added that Mr. Nelson has multiple unanswered traffic tickets returnable to Southampton Town.

Justice Schiavoni set bail at $100,000 even though Cynthia Darrell, the public defender representing Mr. Nelson, stated that Mr. Nelson has no money. Ms. Darrell did not return calls left at her Riverhead office.

Each of the three misdemeanor charges filed against Mr. Nelson carries up to a one-year prison sentence, said Bob Clifford, a spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota.

After last week’s arraignment, Mr. Baron declined to say what upgraded charges Mr. Nelson could be facing and referred questions to Mr. Clifford. When reached this week, Mr. Clifford said he did not yet know what the upgraded charges would be.

Several members of Mr. Nelson’s family, including his girlfriend, infant son and two other relatives, attended the arraignment. They declined to comment.

Mr. Nelson, who was dressed in baggy jeans and a white thermal T-shirt, was led into the courthouse wearing shackles. He appeared visibly upset after his hearing and told his girlfriend that he was “sorry” after being escorted out of the courtroom by State Troopers.

After causing the accident, Mr. Nelson lost control of his car and it also ended up in the center median of Sunrise Highway, police said. He did not suffer any serious injuries, police said, and was arrested at the scene.

The pickup truck being driven by Mr. Spero, emblazoned with a Stony Brook Southampton logo on its driver-side door, sustained heavy damage in the accident. Mr. Nelson’s car sustained heavy damage as well. Debris from both vehicles was scattered on the center median of the highway.

State Police and Southampton Town Fire Marshals responded to the scene.

Both westbound lanes of Sunrise Highway between exits 62 and 63 were closed to traffic until almost 4 p.m. on April 29, and drivers were diverted onto County Road 31. From 4 until 6 p.m., one eastbound lane and one westbound lane were closed to traffic, police said.

Police are continuing the investigation.

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"Drugs -- the victimless crime!"

By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Apr 30, 09 11:47 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By littleplains (305), olde england on Apr 30, 09 12:37 PM
he looks african-american. ilegal?? does it have anything to do with an accident? blame the drugs!!! which are consumed by both legal and illegal people!!!!! and have terrible consecuences like this accident for example.
By Southampton (15), southampton on Apr 30, 09 1:59 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By C Law (354), Water Mill on Apr 30, 09 2:12 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By filephil, Babylon on Apr 30, 09 2:27 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By 60k, Rocky Point, NY on Apr 30, 09 2:56 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By peoplefirst (787), Southampton on Apr 30, 09 3:58 PM
Not at all appropriate
By squeaky (291), hampton bays on Apr 30, 09 4:07 PM
Ha Ha! Squeaky and the other bigots rant and rave all over these boards about illegal 'spanish' immigrants and "dirty illegals who bring in swine flu" ... and now they cget offended at inappropriate comments.

It's called sarcasm -
By littleplains (305), olde england on Apr 30, 09 4:51 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By squeaky (291), hampton bays on Apr 30, 09 5:44 PM
I don't understand why people on this website always make comments about the legal status of someone no matter what the story is. It's sad to think we live in a community with so many people more concerned with the status of someone then the family who just lost a loved one. My thoughts and prayers go out to Mr. Spero's family!
By MD (22), Southampton on Apr 30, 09 7:12 PM
Why am I not surprised all these idiots making inapropriate comments, just like how upset it made me to the idiot outside 7-11 yesterday with the sign reading "Got Flu" and pointing to the people standing waiting for work. I think that is very distasteful whether he is against their status or not it creates a dangerous environment because you know there will be an idiot doing something stupid and react in a negative manner. In my opinion that is not freedom of speech anymore because it is insulting ...more
By HBresident (24), Hampton Bays on Apr 30, 09 8:06 PM
Life in prison may be considered torture under the "Obummer Administration" . Maybe the Courts can talk nicely to him and ask him not to take drugs anymore.
By kpjc (161), east quogue on Apr 30, 09 8:26 PM
"Got flu?"
By Just (14), Hampton Bays on Apr 30, 09 11:31 PM
NY is just a dump
By TheGoodLife (43), Westhampton Beach on May 1, 09 6:50 PM
1st and foremost I would like to send my condolences out to mr. spero's family for their loss. 2nd, mr. nelson is as american as the foolish one who mentioned anything about an immigrant which clearly has nothing to do with the article.

people are always quick to pass judgment when they don't know the whole story let alone they fail to realize we all go through trials & tribulations in life. there are those of us who learn from prior mistakes and then they are those who don't until it's ...more
By St. Blak (1), Riverhead on May 2, 09 3:02 PM
I must compliment St. Blak for his calm and reasoned response to the pseudonymous and gutless "heroes" puffing themselves up behind their modems.
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on May 2, 09 7:42 PM
Yes St. Blak's words are well spoken. There is a family out there tonight with a leader gone; there is another family out there with one of its members incarcerated and seemingly justified so but let the courts decide that. Anyway you look at the situation it is a tragedy; how Mr. Nelson went wrong is yet to be shown but he should and will pay the price once the judical system has run its course. I have little sympathy for him but remember his actions not only destroyed the Spero family life but ...more
By North of Highway (280), Westhampton Beach on May 2, 09 9:58 PM
Yet another horrible ending to a way too common occurance. The culprit lives and the poor VICTIM DIES!! Wakeup people, when in the hell are people going to realize you SHOULD NOT!!!! Be driving under the infuence of anything!! The summer has not even begun and I can't tell you how many accidents I have read about and actually witnessed! Its SICKENING!! What the hell does it take for people to realize this is soooo out of control!! This LOSER who killed this poor man, will get out WAY before he should ...more
By ET66 (12), SOUTHAMPTON on May 6, 09 9:12 PM