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Family seeks max penalty for driver in Astoria DWI

The family of a 30−year−old immigrant from Astoria who was killed in November by a suspected drunk driver traveled from Cyprus to Queens last week to accept a posthumous doctorate degree in her name and to plead with the Queens district attorney to seek the maximum penalty for the defendant.

Panayiota Demetriou, who lived on 34th Street in Astoria, and Brooklyn’s Bessy Velasquez, 41, were killed last fall after Daryush Omar, 24, of Plainview, N.Y., allegedly drove drunk and smashed his Range Rover into a livery cab driven by Velasquez at the corner of 34th Street and 31st Avenue in Astoria, Queens DA Richard Brown said.

Omar has been charged with manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, reckless driving and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol and speed restrictions, Brown said. He also is facing a second−degree murder count in another case in which he is accused of kicking New Jersey resident Thomas Whitney Jr. to death outside a Chelsea bar in 2006.

Demetriou’s father and two brothers, who live in Cyprus, joined Brooklyn attorney Sanford Rubenstein last Thursday to call on Brown to push for the toughest penalty for Omar.

“It is obvious this man has no respect for law or life,” said Demetris Demetriou, the victim’s father. “The grief and pain caused to our family is unbearable to say the least. Our lives will never be the same.”

Rubenstein said he and the family planned to meet with DA Brown last weekend.

Demetriou’s brothers — Andreas, 26, and Kyriacos, 22 — said they were proud that the family would receive a posthumous graduate degree for their sister from Pace University, where she had been studying child psychology. Demetriou had also worked as an emergency room psychiatrist at Brookdale University & Medical Center in Brooklyn.

“My sister was my best friend,” Kyriacos Demetriou said. “She affected my life in every way.”

The victim’s father said that she would have been the first Cypriot to receive a Ph.D. in child psychology.

“Our dream was for our daughter to finish school and come back home,” he said. “For her to return in a casket was not part of the plan.”

Last week. the family met emergency room workers with whom Demeteriou had worked.

“We wanted to see where she worked and who she worked with,” her father said. “We’re very honored that she was loved by so many people.”

The family said they have set up a foundation called Panayiota Demetriou, The Dancing Queen, in her memory. She had been given the nickname by her circle of Astoria friends, they said.

Omar, who is a resident alien of Pakistan, headed back to court earlier this week for his Manhattan case. Rubenstein said he would like for the defendant to serve back−to−back sentences for his two cases, should he be found guilty in both, rather than concurrently. If convicted in the DWI case, Omar could face up to 15 years in prison.

At the time of the accident, Omar had allegedly been driving at more than 45 miles per hour and had blown through a red light and collided with the livery cab, which had been driven by Velasquez. Omar had allegedly admitted to police that he had two drinks and a Breathalyzer test found that his blood alcohol content was at twice the legal limit, the DA said.

Reach reporter Nathan Duke by e−mail at nduke@timesledger.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 156.

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