By Zach Patberg
Before Judge Steven Payner at State Supreme Court in Kew Gardens, Wirta, 56, in slacks and a blue blazer, admitted with a simple “yes” that he was drunk the night of Oct. 22 when he plowed into Vasean and his best friend, Angel Reyes, as they crossed a street in Flushing. Reyes, 12, survived but suffered permanent neural damage.When the assistant district attorney asked if the defendant could acknowledge to the court that the drunken collision caused the death and injuries, Wirta's lawyer, Anthony Rattoballi, said: “John Wirta acknowledges he learned of the death occurring subsequent to the accident.”For the boys' mothers, this admission was lukewarm at best.”I wanted to hear it come from his own mouth,” Vasean's mother, Monique Dixon, said outside the courthouse.Along with the prison term, the negotiated plea requires that Wirta serve 15 days of community services, three years' probation, complete a DWI program and pay a $1,000 fine. His license was also revoked, although he can reapply for it in six months.”This is the strongest possible punishment he could get,” Dixon said. “But we all have to remember that 60 days is not his penalty for killing Vasean.”Rattoballi suggested the punishment was too tough, saying it was “unheard of” for a first time DWI offender to serve a jail sentence.”If justice is blind, technically he shouldn't do any time,” he said after his client rushed from the courthouse without a word. “Tragedy shouldn't change the law.”Still, Rattoballi said Wirta agreed to the deal “to put some closure for his sake and for the sake of Ms. Dixon and Ms. Reyes.”Dixon and Angel's mother, Diane Reyes, recently completed a successful campaign in Albany to stiffen DWI penalties so that anyone who kills another while driving intoxicated faces up to seven years in prison rather than the one-year maximum Wirta faced under the previous law. The new measure, called Vasean's Law, took effect June 8.”We did this so no other family will have to wonder if the charges for their son's death will be a felony or misdemeanor,” Diane Reyes said of their lobbying efforts. “Now we can go home and grieve.”Both mothers now look ahead to the $50 million civil suits each has brought against Wirta – suits Dixon's lawyer, Tracy Brown, said have a better chance now that Wirta has pleaded guilty.Wirta will be formally sentenced Aug. 8, when the mothers will be allowed to give impact statements. Asked what she planned to say, Dixon said with a resolute glare: “I will give him just a small taste of what I feel so my words will haunt him for the rest of his life.”Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.