When Brendan Gibbons woke up on the morning of October 15, 2011, he was excited because it was his birthday.
But the day quickly turned to tragedy when he received a call from a police officer telling him to come to the hospital because his older brother George Gibbons was in a car accident.
When he got to the hospital, Brendan learned his brother had passed away, and was immediately charged with the task of telling his siblings and father the news.
“Nothing in life can prepare you for that,” Brendan said at the sentencing of his brother’s killer, Peter Rodriguez, in a Queens Supreme Court room on Monday, May 7.
“George and I were very close growing up, and as older brothers always do, he took care of me,” Brendan said, struggling to hold back tears.
Brendan bought a new house at the end of last year, and showed George pictures of it, but his older brother was unable to attend the first holiday gatherings he hosted there. Brendan and his wife also have a baby on the way, whom George will never meet.
“All of this because Peter Rodriguez decided to drink and drive and take my big brother away from me, my family and my future too,” he said.
On the morning of Saturday, October 15, 37-year-old Peter Rodriguez drove a car the wrong way down the Long Island Expressway service road at 58th Road in Maspeth, when he collided with a livery cab carrying Gibbons, the 37-year-old owner of the popular local bar The Gibbons’ Home.
Rodriguez then fled to Connecticut, where he was caught and arrested a month later.
More than 50 members of the Gibbons family attended the sentencing, clad in green to honor George’s memory, as was customary at all of the court dates during the case.
Rodriguez was sentenced to 3 ½ to seven years in prison, under a plea deal, and convicted of felony negligent homicide and leaving the scene of an incident.
Five of George’s siblings spoke to the court room about their charming oldest brother, who was the life of the party, helped take care of all of them growing up, and who was endlessly devoted to his community – as proven by the 4,000 people who attended his wake.
The family vowed to attend Rodriguez’ parole hearing in 3 ½ years to urge the court to make him serve the full seven.
When they finished, Rodriguez spoke to the judge, without looking at the Gibbons family.
”I’m sorry, it was an accident,” he said. “It happened so fast.”
Councilwoman Liz Crowley attended the sentencing and held a press conference following it to bring attention to a bill before the state Legislature that passed the Senate last June, but so far has not passed the Assembly.
The bill would raise leaving the scene of a crime from a class D to a class C felony, punishable by seven to 15 years in jail.
“We need to make sure that we stiffen the penalties, because if somebody is leaving the scene of the crime, they’re leaving for a reason and it’s most likely that they’re under the influence of either alcohol or drugs,” Crowley said. “And the way that Peter Rodriguez was driving the morning that George Gibbons was killed, it clearly was negligent.”
But Rodriguez told the judge that he didn’t drink before he got behind the wheel that morning.
“I ran away because I was afraid, not because I was drinking, and I’ll have to live with that for the rest of my life,” Rodriguez said. “I’m sorry for the things I caused them, and I hope they realize one day that it was an accident.”