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Defense attorney: DWI charge against Riverhead man who struck child Aug. 4 to be dropped by district attorney

Photo: Stringer News Service

The Riverhead man accused of driving while intoxicated after an accident on Lewis Street Aug. 4 that seriously injured a five-year-old boy was not intoxicated or impaired at the time of the accident, results of a blood test taken after the crash show, according to the man’s attorney.

Attorney Dan Rodgers said today he has confirmed that the district attorney’s office will move to dismiss the charges against William H. Downing tomorrow morning in Riverhead Town Justice Court.

Downing, 78, was the operator of a Cadillac Escalade that struck a child on Lewis Street at the intersection of Doris Avenue on Aug. 4 at about 6:40 p.m. The child sustained serious injuries and was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital.

Downing was charged with DWI “pending toxicology results,” Riverhead police said in a press release Aug. 5.

A blood test voluntarily taken by Downing shortly after the accident showed a blood alcohol content of .03 percent, well below the .08 percent BAC that constitutes driving while intoxicated as well as the below .06 BAC limit for impairment.

Rodgers said today the charge was filed against his client even though police had physical evidence at the scene of the accident that Downing was not intoxicated. He said a portable screening device used at the scene to test Downing indicated a blood alcohol content of .05 percent.

Further, Rodgers said, Riverhead Police chose not to give Downing a Breathalyzer test at the station, even though the portable screening device at the scene produced a result below the legal limit. Instead, police chose to ask Downing to take a blood test, which he voluntarily submitted to, Rodgers said.

“But the blood test results take two weeks to come back,” Rodgers said. 

Police refused to offer Downing an opportunity to take a Breathylyzer test at the police station, which would have immediately established his innocence of any charges and he would have been released from custody, Rodgers said.

“They put him in handcuffs, they made him spend the night in jail. They issued a press release. He’s had this hanging over his head for two weeks,” Rodgers said in a phone interview this morning.

Downing, a retired construction worker, has never been in trouble in his entire life, Rodgers said.

“Why was he treated this way?” Rodgers asked.

A spokesperson for Suffolk District Attorney Tim Sini could not immediately be reached for comment.

Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller was unavailable and did not return a message seeking comment today.

Rodgers said he intends to file on behalf of Downing a notice of claim against Riverhead Town and the Riverhead Police Department for false arrest and violating his civil rights.

Police did not identify the boy who was injured and have not provided any further information about his condition. 

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter and editor, an attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including a “writer of the year” award from the N.Y. Press Association in 2015. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website. Email Denise.