A Brooklyn man accused with driving the car that killed a Maspeth resident last year will be back in court on Friday, February 24.
Peter Rodriguez, 37, was arrested and charged with killing George Gibbons, the 37-year-old owner of The Gibbons’ Home, popular hangout located on 69th Street in Maspeth, on the morning of Saturday, October 15, 2011.
Rodriguez was allegedly behind the wheel of a car that was going the wrong way down the service road of the Long Island Expressway at 58th Road when he collided with a livery cab that Gibbons was riding in.
Rodriguez faces a series of charges, including second-degree manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident, and criminally negligent homicide. The most serious charge of manslaughter carries a sentence of anywhere from three to 15 years in prison.
Rodriguez has a lengthy and violent criminal record. Since 1992 he has been charged with 10 felonies and nine misdemeanors, according to records obtained by this paper. He was convicted on four of the felony charges and two of the misdemeanors.
Because of his criminal past, some feel that the punishment is not enough, including the area’s councilwoman, Elizabeth Crowley. She wants the Queens District Attorney’s Office to charge Rodriguez with aggravated vehicular manslaughter, which for a repeat felon carries a penalty of up to 25 years in prison.
According to a spokesperson for the district attorney, a guilty verdict on the more serious charge requires proof that the person had a blood-alcohol content over the legal limit of .08 percent at the time of the accident.
However, Rodriguez immediately fled the scene and evaded capture for a month. He was finally arrested on November 15, 2011 in Connecticut.
Because a sobriety test couldn’t be conducted at the scene, the district attorney charged Rodriguez with the lesser crime of manslaughter.
Crowley wants the district attorney to build a case for the more-serious crime with the harsher punishment, noting that the passenger in Rodriguez’s car was arrested for marijuana possession, and that perhaps people Rodriguez was with before the accident can testify that he had been drinking and/or using drugs.
“We want the district attorney to gather evidence and make a case against Peter Rodriguez,” Crowley said. The councilwoman argued that the lesser charge gives the appearance that Rodriguez actually aided his own case by fleeing the scene.
However, the D.A. spokesperson said that eyewitness accounts of Rodriguez using alcohol or drugs before the accident wouldn’t be sufficient to prove aggravated vehicular manslaughter. Only a field sobriety test at the time of the accident would be enough evidence.
Rodriguez’s criminal history began in 1992 in Schenectady, New York, where he was arrested and charged with two counts of possession of a controlled substance. He pled guilty, and served just over six months in jail and was put on parole.
Then in 1998, Rodriguez, under the alias Jose Cruz, was arrested in the 69th Precinct on a domestic incident. He was charged with five separate counts, including menacing with a weapon and acting in a manner injurious to a child under 17 years of age.
In 2002, Rodriguez was again arrested in the 69th Precinct in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn on a set of similar charges of menacing and assault, and sentenced to probation.
Rodriguez would be in and out of trouble with the law with various drug possession, assault, and weapons charges until his last arrest in 2004, when he was found guilty of gang assault while incarcerated.
Rodriguez is currently being held in Rikers Island while he awaits trial on the charges related to the hit and run that killed Gibbons.
Crowley wonders why, given his lengthy and violent criminal record, Rodriguez wasn’t behind bars instead of on the street?
“It’s disappointing that this guy should have been in jail,” Crowley said. “The criminal justice system failed us.”
This time, Crowley wants Rodriguez prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
“It’s not just George Gibbons who is affected,” she said. “He has impacted countless other people, including friends and family all over Maspeth, and he will impact lives in the future if he is not behind bars.”