In court last Friday, the family of Danny Dimitri finally heard the words that should have been said from the day he was killed on Cottman Avenue on Jan 31, 2017:
Adam Soto, 25, the drag-racing off-duty Philly cop who mowed down Dimitri, 50, sobbed through his apology to Dimitri’s mother, sister, and niece.
“What I did was stupid,” he said, his face contorted. “My job was to stop people like me from doing this.”
Soto’s vehicle was clocked at 88 mph when it slammed into Danny, sending his body 144 feet down the road. The force of the hit tore the clothes from Danny’s body. He died wearing only his underwear and one sock.
Soto’s father wept as he told Danny’s family how sorry he was that his son had done something so reckless.
It was hard to doubt their sincerity. But it was harder to overlook the fact that the apologies were being said – for the first time ever – during Soto’s sentencing hearing before Common Pleas Court Judge J. Scott O’Keefe at the Criminal Justice Center. Intertwined with Soto’s apology was his plea for leniency.
It was too much for Cheryl Dimitri Prosinski, 58, Danny’s sister.
“Someone should’ve reached out a long time ago,” she said. “How hard would it have been for someone to say, ‘I’m sorry’?”
That would include Soto’s speed-racing partner, fellow off-duty cop Tony Forest, who was not charged in Danny’s death. In fact, Forest wasn’t even cited for speeding until I raised the question of his culpability in a column.
Worse, neither Soto or Forrest, or Forrest’s passenger that day – another off-duty cop – even bothered to render aid to Danny when they stopped at the crash scene. They left that to bystanders, who later assured Cheryl that her brother was not alone when he took his last breath.
The least the men could have done would have been to tell Danny’s family how sorry they were for what happened. But even the least was apparently too much.
On Friday, the courtroom was crowded with Soto’s family and supporters, who waited to hear whether O’Keefe would deviate from state-sentencing guidelines that recommend just three to 12 months for Soto, who pleaded guilty in October to vehicular homicide and involuntary manslaughter.
Soto’s attorney pleaded for house arrest. The prosecuting attorney asked for three to seven years of hard time.
In the end, O’Keefe gifted Soto with the state standard plus four years on probation. He’ll be eligible for work release within three months of starting his sentence on Feb. 8.
“Those apologies were all for show,” said Danny’s inconsolable mom, Virginia, 81, wailing afterward in Cheryl’s arms.
Her sobs filled the room, echoed by those of her granddaughter Brittany Prosinki, 34, who is the spitting image of the uncle she lost. The family shook as they processed what they considered to be an “easy sentence” for the man whose recklessness has divided their existence in half:
Life before Soto killed Danny. And life after.
“I cry when I open my eyes in the morning. I cry before bed. Going to work is the only thing that keeps me from going crazy,” said Cheryl as she, Brittany, and Virginia readied to leave the courtroom. “I know this is supposed to feel like closure, but all I feel is empty."
She and Danny loved cops. Every Christmas Eve, they’d buy Wawa and Dunkin’ Donuts gift cards and hand them out to officers stuck on duty that day.
“If they couldn’t be with their families, we thought the least we could do was buy them a sandwich and a coffee,” she says.
Old habits die hard, even in the wake of tragedy. Over the summer, Prosinski bought coffee for two cops who were parked at the shopping center where she’d run an errand.
“I got them creams and sugars and said, ‘Here, this is for you. Thanks for what you do.’ They were shocked – I loved it.”
She can’t get past the irony that Danny, who loved police officers, is gone because of an officer who played fast and loose with his pledge to protect and serve the people of this city.
If it had been Danny behind the wheel, she says, you can bet he would’ve done everything he could to save the person his recklessness had doomed. And he wouldn’t have waited two years to apologize.