By Patrick Markey
The Derry-born ambulance driver charged in the deaths of three Brooklyn children last year must choose on Thursday whether to accept a plea bargain allowing her to remain free on probation or go to trial and risk imprisonment.
Anne Lamberson must face Judge Michael Gary in Brooklyn State Supreme Court to decide whether to plead guilty to the lower charge of criminally negligent homicide and accept five years probation.
If she declines the Brooklyn District Attorney’s offer, Lamberson’s trial on second-degree manslaughter charges will start on Oct. 25, almost a year after her emergency vehicle plowed into Angela Igwe’s car, killing three of Igwe’s children.
Although Igwe has said Lamberson should not be imprisoned, the judge can sentence her to a maximum of 15 years in prison once a jury finds her guilty. Prosecutors have said they will push for a prison term if Lamberson refuses the offer of probation and goes to trial.
"We are not seeking incarceration. But after the trial we will be seeking incarceration," Assistant District Attorney Caroline Kelly said at a pre-trial hearing on Friday.
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Police said Lamberson was arrested in October 1998 after the private ambulance she was driving sailed through a red light and broadsided Igwe’s Nissan car. Damilola Morak, 7, Olusegun Morak, 5 and 2-year-old Akintunde Morak were killed in the collision.
Although police initially said Lamberson had not been on an emergency run, her defense team produced a tape recorded call between Lamberson’s ambulance and the dispatcher that they said showed it was a priority.
Under New York law, emergency vehicles on priority calls are allowed to pass through red lights and exceed the speed limited if the driver exercises proper caution. But prosecutors believe Lamberson drove recklessly enough to warrant the manslaughter charges.
At Friday’s hearing lawyers continued their legal sparring over evidence for the trial.
Two New York police officers who took statements from Lamberson after the accident appeared as part of the pre-trial Huntley hearing, where Judge Gary decided her police interviews were admissible.
Police Officer Vivien Gavin told the court she approached Lamberson shortly after the accident where she appeared distracted but not distraught.
"She was distracted, looking all over the place," the police officer said.
Highway patrol officer Michael Albertsen also testified about the two statements he took from Lamberson, one at her hospital bed after the accident and another in a patrol vehicle after he arrested her later at her Queens home.
Lamberson’s parents left the Bogside for the United States in the early 1960s when she was a small child. Her case generated support in Derry after her family contacted Nobel Prize winner John Hume, who has expressed concern over the serious nature of the charges.