Former FDNY Babylon firefighter, sentenced to 15 years for fatal accident in Sunken Meadow Parkway, Long Island

Ex-firefighter's remorse, a family's grief, and a city's zero-tolerance stance on DUI - a courtroom drama unfolds in Suffolk County.

In November 2020, a head-on collision in Long Island, NY, claimed the life of a Queens teacher, Anthony Mariano. The man behind the wheel was Joseph Norris, an off-duty FDNY firefighter based in Babylon who had spent his evening drinking at a nightclub.

The horrific accident resulted in Norris losing his legs, but the more severe consequence was the death of Mariano, a man engaged to be married. Norris has now been sentenced to a maximum of 15 years in prison.

During Wednesday’s sentencing, Christie Azzolini, Mariano’s fiancée, took the stand to express her grief. She told the judge that the love of her life was lost to Norris’ reckless driving on Sunken Meadow Parkway, Suffolk County.

“My small misfortune pales in comparison to the loss you have been through. If I could trade places with Anthony, I would,” Norris said, addressing Mariano’s family during his sentencing – Former FDNY firefighter.

Mariano’s family also gave emotional testimonies in court, noting that Norris’ actions had left an indelible mark of sadness on their family. Vincent Mariano, the teacher’s father, was so incensed that he could not remain in the courtroom. Instead, he directed his anger at Norris, wishing him no peace or rest, as per a report by NBC News.

The site of the fatal accident, which took place around 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 20, now houses a memorial for Mariano. Norris had spent hours drinking at a strip club before deciding to get behind the wheel that night. He drove several miles southbound in the northbound lanes of Sunken Meadow Parkway, near the SM3A exit in Smithtown. Numerous cars managed to avoid the oncoming truck, but Mariano was unable to and lost his life in the ensuing crash.

Following the accident, a blood test revealed that Norris’ blood alcohol content was 0.29, triple the legal limit. Investigators found empty beer and liquor bottles in the wreckage of Norris’ truck, further substantiating the prosecution’s claims.

In court, Norris expressed his remorse to the judge. He stated, “My little misfortune pales in comparison to the loss you have been through. If I could trade places with Anthony(Mariano), I would.”

For 17 years, Mariano had taught social studies at Benjamin N. Cardozo High School in Bayside. He had been in a relationship with Azzolini, his girlfriend of 10 years, and the couple had planned to get married in the summer of 2021. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, they postponed their wedding, according to the Daily News.

In a similar, unrelated case last week, a nine-year-old girl was awarded $4 million from a trucking company implicated in her father’s death, despite the fact that he was a passenger in a car driven by an intoxicated friend. A Brooklyn (NYC) judge determined that the truck driver was also at fault due to an unsafe turn.

Earlier this month, Errick Persaud, 24, was charged with driving under the influence and causing the death of Michael Rodriguez, 38, a NYC city employee who was a passenger in a truck in Queens.

In light of these tragic events, New York authorities have issued a stern reminder about the zero-tolerance policy for drivers who choose to speed or drive under the influence of alcohol and drugs.