A Baldwin man pleaded guilty on Nov. 15 to driving while high on drugs and causing a crash that killed a Merrick minister in April, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas announced.
Christopher Gomez-Almendarez, 24, pleaded guilty before Judge Patricia Harrington to second-degree manslaughter, second-degree assault and driving while impaired by a combination of drugs.
The accident killed the Rev. T. Chako Mammen, 69, a minister at the Long Island Mar Thoma Church in Merrick.
Gomez-Almendarez is expected to be sentenced to six years — concurrent to two and a half to seven years — in prison on Jan. 24, 2020. The prosecution recommended the maximum sentence of five to 15 years for the manslaughter charge and seven years for the assault charge.
“Reverend Mammen was a father of five children and a cherished community and church leader when his life was tragically cut short by this defendant,” Singas said. “The combination of the defendant’s speed and his drug impairment was lethal to anyone in his path. Our condolences remain with [Mammen’s] family, friends and parishioners.”
On Good Friday, April 19, at 12:10 a.m., Gomez-Almendarez drove his Honda Civic westbound on the Southern State Parkway at extremely high speeds while he was high on alprazolam and fentanyl, Singas said. He rear-ended Mammen’s GMC SUV between exits 29 and 30, causing the SUV to collide into several trees on the side of the road.
In the seconds leading up to the collision, crash data showed Gomez-Almendarez was driving 86 to 91 mph and did not attempt to slow down before his vehicle collided with the reverend’s car.
Mammen was rushed to Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow where he later died from his injuries. His wife, Wilsy Mammen, a front-seat passenger in the vehicle, suffered non-life-threatening injuries. After his death, church members reflected on Mammen’s irreplaceable presence. “We’re a church of over 200 families, and he would connect to every single person in a personal way,” said Anil Chacko, Mar Thoma’s vice president, in April. “He showed the importance of one-to-one relationships — he was the kind of character that exemplified being humble.”
“He was a great person and a godly man,” added Thomas Kurien, the parish secretary. “He was the go-to guy to talk to and share your problems and feelings [with], and he was known by each person of the parish and touched everyone’s lives.”
Mammen had been a member of the church since 2009, according to Chacko.
Senior Assistant District Attorney Christopher Casa and Assistant District Attorney Carissa Danesi, of Singas’s Vehicular Crimes Bureau prosecuted the case. Attorn-ey Brian Griffin represents the defendant.
— Andrew Garcia