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Ex-cop gets time for death on Throgs Neck crossing

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A former police captain who killed a construction worker while driving drunk on the Throgs Neck Bridge was sentenced to one year in prison last week.

James O’Connor, 47 of Long Island, was sentenced by State Supreme Court Judge Robert Hanophy in the death of Afif Hazim, a 51-year-old Syrian immigrant who raised a family in the Bronx.

Hazim’s family, which had already decried O’Connor’s plea deal, expressed further shock at the former officer’s receiving the one-year sentence under the terms of the bargain.

“This is not right!” screamed Jamilah, Hazim’s widow, as she left the Kew Gardens courtroom in hysterics Sept. 18. “This is not America!”

According to prosecutors, O’Connor struck and killed Hazim after driving into a construction zone of the Queens side of the Throgs Neck Bridge in the early morning hours of Oct. 20, 1999.

O’Connor had been celebrating his promotion to the Internal Affairs Bureau of the New York Police Department at a party in the Bronx and was speeding home after repeated pages from his wife, prosecutors said.

After handing down the sentence, Hanophy told the court O’Connor’s sentence was typical for causing a death while driving drunk.

“If you look at the way cases are handled, you will see justice was done in this case,” he said. “Mr. O’Connor was treated no different that anyone else in the this county.”

Before the sentence, Hazim’s family members were given a chance to speak.

“It’s impossible for me to express in words the devastation,” said the slain construction worker’s son, Elias Hazim. “You, Mr. O’Connor, have destroyed our family. The American dream ... you have turned it into a nightmare.”

Hazam Hazim, Afif’s brother, told the court about his sibling’s efforts to put his three children through college.

“He knew by hard work he could make a better life for his family. And he did.”

Hazam then addressed O’Connor.

“You, Mr. O’Connor, are a disgrace to the Police Department,” he said. “Justice was not served. What you have gotten is a slap on the wrist.”

O’Connor’s attorney, Michael Dowd, called the situation a “terrible human tragedy.”

Dowd then went on to describe his client as a family man who had already suffered by losing his job and his pension.

“Except for this incident we had a man who certainly had an unblemished record both in the Police Department and life as a whole,” Dowd said.

While the prosecution had called for a sentence of up to nine years, Dowd criticized Assistant District Attorney Brad Leventhal, saying he pursued a more stringent sentence after the May conviction of Joseph Gray, a Brooklyn police officer. Gray got five to 15 years for killing a family of four while driving drunk when he was off duty.

O’Connor himself then stood before the court.

“I would like to express my deep apology,” he said. “I am deeply ashamed that my actions have brought me before you today.”

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 141.

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