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Lawmakers push for stiffer penalties after boy, 12, killed by accused suspended driver

April 2, 2015
FIOS1 Long Island

Acting Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas today called on state leaders to pass legislation stiffening penalties for suspended and revoked drivers who seriously injure or kill others.

Singas was joined by the parents of Zachary Ranftle, a 12-year-old boy who was killed by an alleged suspended driver last December.

At the time of his death, school officials said he was a seventh grader at Valley Stream Memorial Junior High School.

If convicted, the driver, 29-year-old Seaford resident Austin Soldano faces less than five years in prison. Soldano’s attorney, Richard Brunetti, tells FiOS1 News the proposed law a “knee-jerk reaction.”

“Today we say ‘enough.’ Innocent people should not have to live in fear of suspended or revoked drivers who should not be on the road,” Singas said in a statement. “I call upon the legislature to recognize that a suspended or revoked driver who seriously injures or kills should be charged with a felony – not the same misdemeanor charge the driver would have received if they had just been stopped by a police officer.”

Soldano was arraigned today on charges he drove drunk in August 2014 in Long Beach and had his license suspended. While his license was still suspended, he allegedly drove a GMC Yukon SUV in December 2014 and struck and killed Ranftle at West Merrick Road and South Franklin Avenue in Valley Stream, police said.

Soldano’s is out on bail, his attorney, Brunetti, said. At the time of the crash, the lawyer called Ranftle’s death a tragic accident.

“It’s very short sided. It’s all just politics,” Brunetti told FiOS1 News tonight. “The intent is good, but when you look at the practicality” it doesn’t work. “Do you know how many people in New York drive with a suspended a license?”

Brunetti said Soldano immediately stopped his truck and called 911 when the crash occurred. He questioned if other drivers would do the same if they would face stiffer jail times.

“It’s too much. Sometimes tragic events make the worse laws,” the attorney said.

If convicted, Soldano faces up to 1-1/3 to four years in prison on the felony DWI. He faces 180 days on misdemeanor aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle charge that took Ranftle’s life, officials said.

It’s “even that possible sentence will be merged by law into any sentence” Soldano receives on the DWI, Singas said. Soldano is due back in court on April 24.

The proposed legislation would make driving with a suspended or revoked license chargeable as an E felony in incidents involving serious injury. Additionally, suspended and revoked drivers involved in incidents resulting in death would be charged with a D felony.

The maximum sentence for an E felony is 1-1/3 to four years in prison; the max sentence for a D felony is 2-1/3 to seven years in prison.