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Gibbons’ killer heads to prison for seven years

City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (l.) talks with George Gibbons' sister, Siobhan Mcentee, (c.) and father, George Gibbons Sr., outside Queens Criminal Court. Photo by Ellis Kaplan
TimesLedger Newspapers

The wrong-way driver who fled the state after causing the death of beloved Maspeth bar owner George Gibbons was sentenced to up to seven years in prison Monday, the Queens district attorney said.

Peter Rodriguez, 37, kept his eyes trained on the floor of Queens Criminal Court while members of Gibbons’ family read victim impact statements aloud ahead of Judge Dorothy Chin-Brandt’s ruling, according to one family member.

“The day he was killed was my birthday,” Gibbons’ brother, Brendan recalled saying in court. “I will never forget, every year on my birthday, what Peter Rodriguez took from me.”

Rodriguez at one point said the death of Gibbons, who was killed at 6:50 a.m. Oct. 15, was an accident, according to Gibbons’ brother.

Rodriguez was speeding in a 2002 gray Chrysler Sebring the wrong way down the eastbound Long Island Expressway service road when he collided head-on with a Lincoln livery cab, according to the DA.

Gibbons, 37, was thrown against the dashboard and was later pronounced dead from trauma to the head, the DA said, while the livery cab driver suffered head and neck injuries.

Rodriguez and a passenger both fled the scene, but the passenger later returned and was treated for injuries, according to the DA.

Rodriguez, though, went on the lam, the DA said.

A month later, acting on an anonymous tip, the U.S. Marshals New York/New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force arrested Rodriguez, who already had a lengthy rap sheet, in Connecticut. He was subsequently brought back to Queens.

The sentence will not bring George Gibbons back, his brother said, but the fact that Rodriguez will do time is a small comfort, he said.

Last month Rodriguez pleaded guilty to criminally negligent homicide and leaving the scene of an accident, the DA said.

The 3 1/2 to seven years was the maximum sentence allowed by law, but a group of Queens lawmakers want to change that.

City Council members Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) and Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) stood on the steps of the courthouse to call on the state Legislature to pass a bill that would increase the penalties for anyone who leaves the scene of an accident.

When motorists flee accidents, there is no way for police to determine if they were under the influence of alcohol or drugs, according to the bill.

It had been proposed once before and passed the state Senate last year, but died in the state Assembly earlier this year. It was not immediately clear what killed the bill.

But the legislation has been reintroduced and, according to the lawmakers could ensure negligent drivers are held responsible.

“Right now our system fails to adequately hold criminally negligent drivers accountable for their actions,” Crowley said in a statement. “I will continue to work with the Gibbons family and the Maspeth community to call on the state Assembly to pass and Gov. Cuomo to sign this important bill.”

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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