The 19-year-old Southampton man — believed to be a Bloods gang member — who was arrested in a fatal hit-and-run last month, was drinking and was high on pot when the 2013 Jeep he was driving with three friends as passengers struck and killed a man on County Road 39 in April, Suffolk prosecutors said Thursday, June 21.
Chace Quinn, who lives on the Shinnecock Indian Reservation, is facing 12 to 36 years in prison, according the stack of charges in an 18-count indictment, which includes four counts of felony aggravated vehicular homicide, that was unsealed in Suffolk County Criminal Court in Central Islip.
Quinn pleaded not guilty before Justice Fernando Camacho, denying he was driving the Jeep that struck 63-year-old Pennsylvania delivery driver Joseph McAlla and then fled the scene, leaving him to die on the road. Prosecutors said Quinn turned off the Jeep’s lights and fled to the reservation a short distance away, and then concocted a lie that the car’s driver’s side mirror and front fender flare were missing because he had hit a deer.
Quinn was seen on video surveillance consuming numerous drinks as well as smoking marijuana, according to Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Simi. The DA said Quinn and his three companions, who were also intoxicated, did not call 911.
“This is a serious case. An individual is dead. There is a family that will never have their loved one come home again,” said Sini in a press briefing at the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge following the arraignment.
Sini said there was no way to say for sure that if McAlla received medical help that he could have been saved because the crash was so “traumatic” and “intense.”
“There is always a possibility, that if a 911 call had been made immediately by one of the witnesses or by the defendant, that more could have been done to save this individual,” he said. “And, in addition, there is no doubt that the defendant fled because he knew he was highly intoxicated and high on marijuana. He knew he was wanted by the police and decided to simply evade detection. He then continued to lie about the crash by telling people that the car was banged up because he hit a deer on the county road.”
Sini said the Vehicular Crimes Bureau, which is handling the case, is finding itself prosecuting “impact players” or gang members who are “driving crime in our communities, are a thorn in our side for a number of different reasons, and they are getting behind the wheel of a car and creating tragedy and then are finding themselves on the other side of the ‘V’ in an indictment.”
Sini said the indictment is twofold in that it will not only bring justice to the family of the victim and hold Quinn accountable, but it will “take a very dangerous person off the street.”
Assistant District Attorney Maggie Bopp said Quinn had been drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana prior to the early morning crash on April 5 and hit McAlla, who was making a delivery to Southampton Masonry. Quinn was also speeding as the car he was driving struck McAlla, who was walking across County Road 39 to close a gate, Bopp said, adding that McAlla suffered a “traumatic amputation” of his leg from the impact and “additional blunt force trauma.” McAlla’s leg was found about 70 feet away from his body, she said.
Based on the top charge of aggravated vehicular homicide, Quinn faces up to 25 years in prison. “This defendant never slowed down, this defendant never stopped,” she said. “He just left [Joseph McAlla] to die in the roadway.”
McAlla was a father of three adult children, whose widow of 45 years described him as the kind of person who never called in sick or was late to work.
Quinn evaded law enforcement, going as far as to run away into the woods at the reservation when officers showed up to place him under arrest, and when he was eventually arrested on May 29, he was trying to flee to Georgia, prosecutors said.
Sini described the case as difficult, noting that Quinn’s arrest was made possible through the cooperation of multiple agencies including the DA’s office, New York State police, and Southampton Town police. Local police cannot enter the reservation, which is federally recognized tribal land, without the assistance of state troopers, who have an agreement with the tribe.
DA Praises Investigators
Sini said Quinn proved to be “touchable.” “He proved to lose his game of evading the police. The police did a tremendous job and this was a complicated situation,” he said, adding that police were able to apprehend Quinn using “innovative tactics.”
“You are dealing with a Bloods street gang member. Obviously, this was an individual who is dangerous. He has a criminal history, so it’s about apprehending the individual [in a manner] that is most safe to the community,” he said.
The other people in the car with Quinn have not been charged thus far as part of the Grand Jury investigation, according to Sini.
Quinn’s rap sheet containing criminal run-ins with the law is 18 pages and contains charges for driving while intoxicated, second-degree assault, as well as youthful offender convictions for first-and second-degree assault in 2016. He also had open warrants for obstructing justice and menacing with a weapon.
At Quinn’s arraignment, prosecutor Brendan Ahearn requested that a hearing be held to determine if Quinn’s attorney, Peter Smith of Northport, should continue to represent him. During the course of their investigation, the DA’s office learned Smith had met with some witnesses in the case and had been retained to represent some of them.
Camacho called the issues the Ahearn raised “complex and complicated,” though he ruled that Smith might continue to represent Quinn.
Smith challenged Ahearn’s request for the hearing, noting the inquiry would only be necessary for a co-defendant in which there is none. He further described the charges against Quinn as “allegations” and noted that his client, Quinn, is innocent until proven guilty. Smith said he met with some members of the Shinnecock Indian Reservation because they believed that law enforcement had been “heavy-handed” in their handling of the case and wanted to know what their rights were.
Smith said the DA’s Office “probably may want me off the case because they know that I am going to do a good job.”
Several of Quinn’s family members did not attend the court proceeding but met with Smith afterward downstairs. They declined to speak with a reporter when asked for comment.
Based on the top charge of aggravated vehicular homicide, a felony, Quinn faces up to 25 years in a state prison.
Quinn also faces four counts of vehicular manslaughter, as well as a count each of manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident with an injury, and tampering with physical evidence, and two counts of intimidating a witness.
Other charges include driving while intoxicated, driving while ability impaired by a combination of drugs and alcohol, driving with a suspended license, circumventing an interlock device, and unauthorized use of a vehicle.
Quinn was remanded without bail back to the Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Riverside. He is due back in court on July 11.