On Monday, January 28, 20 years to the day after a drunken driver crashed in Springs, then left his friend to die in the burning wreckage, justice was finally served when he was sentenced to two to six years in state prison.
Wilson Pantosin, then 25 years old, lost control of his car on Hog Creek Road. The vehicle struck a tree, flipped over, and burst into flames. Pantosin, who was found, dazed, about 150 feet from the burning car, did not tell the first officer on the scene, James Jahoda, nor the emergency first responders who followed, that his friend, Wilson Illaisaca, was trapped in the car.
Jahoda said Monday on the phone that he remembered asking Pantosin many times whether there was a passenger in the car, only to be told, repeatedly, “No.”
The blaze was intense, a true fireball. After it was extinguished, Jahoda was called over by a fireman, who told him there was a body in the car. It took Jahoda a minute to recognize Illaisaca’s body in the charred vehicle. The Suffolk County Medical Examiner’s office found that Illaisaca was alive after the crash, and was killed by the flames.
After posting bail days after the crash, Pantosin disappeared for 19 years. At one point, the district attorney’s office has said, he returned to Ecuador, his native country. He finally apprehended in Harris County, TX, early last year when he voluntarily had a background check run on himself, which revealed the warrant in place since he fled East Hampton. It is not clear why he requested the background check. He had been indicted in 2003 by a grand jury on the manslaughter and vehicular manslaughter charges he pleaded guilty to last month. The indictment was brought before the statute of limitation on the charges could take effect.
Monday afternoon, Pantosin stood, head bowed, in front of State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho in Central Islip, awaiting sentence, as members of the Illaisaca family addressed the court. “I was too young to understand,” Andrea Illaisaca said, reading from a piece of paper, crying. “This year, I’m getting married, and he won’t be there to walk me down the aisle.” She was five when her father died. “I just wanted you to know that I forgive you, and if you seek forgiveness, God will have mercy on you.”
Erica Illaisaca said she was four when her father died. “You were the last person he was here to see.” She said that her father considered Pantosin his best friend. She then posed a question to Pantosin, asking how he could tell first responders repeatedly that he was alone in the vehicle. Pantosin continued to look down at the floor. “I don’t understand how you couldn’t say, ‘Yes.’ That was a horrible way to die.”
Finally, the women’s mother, Illaisaca’s wife, Narcisa Chumbi, spoke. Justice Camacho directed Pantosin to “look at her,” which the defendant did, tears in his eyes. Chumbi, also choking back tears, started off by saying, “May God bless your children and your family.” Pantosin has two children in the U.S., and two in Ecuador. Pantosin began to cry as Chumbi spoke. “You could have avoided this if you hadn’t decided to drink and drive,” she said.
Prosecuting attorney Maggie Bopp also addressed the court. After Pantosin posted bail in 1999, he fled, despite having surrendered his passport, she said. He returned, for a time, to Ecuador. “He fled without looking back,” Bopp said. Pantosin admitted to having consumed a half bottle of vodka, a half bottle of wine, and six beers before the accident. “After 20 years, the defendant will finally be held accountable for his actions that night,” she added.
Before sentence was pronounced, Pantosin spoke. “He was my brother,” Pantosin said of Illaisaca, who was also a native of Ecuador. He then said about their drinking that night, “The two of us never thought of the consequences.”
A sentence of two to six years in state prison had previously been agreed to. Justice Camacho described the mother and daughters as being “courageous.” He told the two young women, “Your father would be very proud of you.” Justice Camacho then turned his attention to Pantosin, “You weren’t his brother. You weren’t his friend,” he said. “You have no idea what courage is.” He called Pantosin a “coward,” saying, “How do you walk away from a burning car?”
After Pantosin serves his time upstate, he will be deported, Justice Camacho said.
Now having been convicted of manslaughter and vehicular manslaughter, Pantosin will be classified as a violent felon. He is almost certain to be deported as such by a federal immigration judge. If he were to return illegally to the U.S. after that, he would face up to 20 years in federal prison, under the laws covering violent felons who re-enter the country.