Two Leandra's Law Arrests

Drivers pulled over in Montauk and on Napeague
East Hampton Town police led Philip Porpora to his arraignment at town justice court Saturday. T.E. McMorrow

Police made two arrests in recent days of people they say were driving drunk with children as passengers, and in both cases there could be multiple felony charges.

A Scarsdale man was charged with three felony counts of aggravated drunken driving after being arrested last Thursday afternoon by East Hampton Town police. 

Philip Porpora, 39, was said to have struck a sign on the eastbound side of Montauk Highway on Napeague with a 2007 Ford that was pulling a camper. In the car at the time were his three children, 6, 7, and 9 years old, police said. After his arrest, he allegedly refused to take a breath test at police headquarters. In New York State, even a first offense driving-while-intoxicated charge is elevated to the level of an aggravated felony under Leandra's Law, which increases penalties for drunken driving when children under 16 are in the car. The law also requires that the accused consent to a blood alcohol test. Blood was drawn by court order at about 4 p.m., three and a half hours after he was arrested. The blood is sent to the Suffolk County crime lab for testing; results may not be available for several weeks.

Besides the felony charges, Mr. Porpora is facing three misdemeanor charges of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor charge of drunken driving, and three moving violations -- driving with an open container of alcohol in the car, refusing to take a breath test, and leaving the scene of an accident.

Mr. Porpora sat on the prisoner's bench before East Hampton Town Justice Lisa R. Rana entered the court for his arraignment on Saturday. The guarding officer asked him if he was all right. "We're out on vacation. It's been great so far," he answered in a monotone voice. "Can't wait to do it again next year."

After she took the bench, Justice Rana asked Mr. Porpora whether he wanted to call a lawyer. "I think I can handle the arraignment process myself," he answered. "For the record," the justice said, "the court did call Legal Aid and were told they would not be able to send an attorney."
"Are you working?" she asked. "Not after this," he answered.

The justice told Mr. Porpora that his license was now suspended twice over, once for refusing the blood level test at police headquarters and again for having a prior alcohol-related conviction within the past five years. She said he had previously been convicted of driving with ability impaired by alcohol.

"Ma'am, may I ask you a question? Is it possible to give me a hardship license for work?"

"Absolutely not," she answered. "The assistant district attorney has requested $25,000 bail be set. Are you able to make the bail?"

"I have to make a phone call. Can I ask for a reconsideration?"

"You can ask," the justice said.

She began to read through the paperwork on the case and Mr. Porpora's record. After about two minutes, the justice said, "Given the severe nature of the charges, you have no ties to the community, your previous record, bail is set in the amount of $51,000 cash."

"I won't be able to make that," he said.

The justice asked where his three children lived.

"With my soon-to-be ex-wife," he said. He was taken to the county jail in Riverside, where he has been held since.

A Montauk woman, Elizabeth A. Forsberg, 40, was arraigned in East Hampton Town Justice Court Sunday morning on a Leandra's charge after being arrested by State Police Saturday at 9:35 p.m. She was said to have had four children in the car, aged 10 years old or younger.

Ms. Forsberg, who is a member of East Hampton High School’s science faculty, was stopped near the music festival in downtown Montauk. She refused the breath test, was taken to state police headquarters in Riverside, and had blood drawn by court order about three hours later. Again, results may not be available for several weeks.

Ms. Forsberg was represented for her arraignment in front of Justice Rana Sunday morning by Rita Bonicelli, who told the justice that her client was a lifetime resident of the area and had never had a previous arrest.

"This is a serious charge," the justice said, adding "I think you are looking at additional charges once it goes to the D.A." Ms. Forsberg is currently facing one Leandra's Law charge, but could well be hit with three more, one for each child she allegedly had in the car, if she is indicted by a grand jury.
The justice set bail at $10,000, which was posted that afternoon.