Finding Forgiveness After a Fatality

Family confronts drunken driver 20 years on
"Please look at her," Justice Fernando Camacho instructed Wilson Pantosin, who had held his head down as the victim's daughter gave a statement. T.E. McMorrow/Pool Photo

On the 20th anniversary of a fiery drunken-driving crash in Springs that left a 25-year-old man dead, his best friend, who was a fugitive for 20 years, was sentenced to two to six years in state prison.

Wilson Pantosin, a 45-year-old from Ecuador who was found living in Texas early last year, will be deported after he serves his sentence, Suffolk County Acting Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho said in his Central Islip courtroom on Monday.

The partner and daughters of the victim, Wilson Illaisaca, had one message for the man responsible for his death: They forgive him.

Holding back tears, Andrea Illaisaca, who is 25, the same age as her father when he died, told Mr. Pantosin that his reckless decision to drive drunk left her and her sister fatherless. She stood in the jury box in the small courtroom with her sister and mother, who were crying uncontrollably at times, next to her. She looked at Mr. Pantosin directly while he bowed his head.

Though he was arrested on the night of the crash and surrendered his passport, he fled the state a month later and remained a fugitive for nearly two decades before he was caught in Harris County, Tex., last year. The Suffolk County district attorney’s office said he had initiated a background check that tipped off authorities to his whereabouts. Why he wanted a background check was not clear.

He has been in custody since Feb. 28, when he was extradited to Suffolk County. He pleaded guilty in December to manslaughter in the second degree, a felony, two counts of vehicular manslaughter in the second degree, also a felony, and two counts of driving while intoxicated.

“We were too young to understand what happened,” Andrea Illaisaca said of how they struggled. “We needed his love and protection.”

On Jan. 28, 1999, Mr. Pantosin was driving a 1995 Dodge Neon on Hog Creek Road when he lost control of the car, which then headed across the oncoming lane of traffic and onto the southbound shoulder, hitting a tree, a utility pole, and a guy wire before overturning and catching fire.

Erika Illaisaca, who was just 4 when her father died, said that for many years she was mad that Mr. Pantosin was the last person her father got to see before he died. She spoke of how first responders asked Mr. Pantosin, who got out of the burning car after it crashed, multiple times if there was anyone else inside.

“How come you just couldn’t say yes?” she asked. “It was a horrible way to die. I wouldn’t want that for you or anybody else.”

Mr. Illaisaca’s body was discovered in the passenger seat after the flames had been extinguished. The medical examiner ruled that the cause of death was thermal injury and smoke inhalation, with blunt-force trauma as a contributing factor.

Mr. Pantosin’s blood alcohol level about 55 minutes after the crash was .22 percent, a toxicology report showed. He admitted to the probation department, according to Maggie Bopp, the assistant district attorney handling the case, that he had consumed half a bottle of vodka, half a bottle of wine, and six beers before the crash. She noted how he later tried to blame the victim for being intoxicated as well.

Mr. Illaisaca’s children, however, have compassion for his family. Erika Illaisaca spoke of Mr. Pantosin’s children, two of whom are the same age as she and her sister. “I just want you to know that I forgive you.”

Andrea Illaisaca mentioned her own daughter, who would never get to meet her grandfather, and how in May, when she gets married, she will do so without a father to walk her down the aisle.

“If you seek forgiveness, God will have mercy on you,” she told him. “I pray that you and your family get through this.”

“My dad was a very humble, loving, responsible, and hard-working man,” Wilson Illaisaca’s daughter Andrea Illaisaca said. He is seen here with the mother of his children, Narcisa Chumbi, who also appeared in court on Monday at the sentencing of his best friend.  Illaisaca Family

 

Narcisa Chumbi, the victim’s partner, addressed Mr. Pantosin last. She began to cry as she spoke in Spanish.

“Please look at her,” Justice Camacho instructed Mr. Pantosin, who had held his head down as Mr. Illaisaca’s children gave statements. Tears rolled down his face.

“May God bless your children, your parents, and your brothers and sisters,” Ms. Chumbi said to him. “If you hadn’t decided to drink and drive. . . .” She added that the accident was a lesson about the consequences of doing so.

When given an opportunity, Mr. Pantosin, speaking in Spanish, asked for forgiveness. “He was my brother,” he said. “The two of us never thought of the consequences.”

In handing down Mr. Pantosin’s sentence, Justice Camacho addressed the victim’s family first. “You are remarkable young women. Your mother is a terrific mother,” he said. “I think your father would have been very proud of you.”

The judge said he wanted Mr. Pantosin to look at them because it took a tremendous amount of courage to forgive him. Turning to the defendant, he said, “And you, you have no idea what courage means.”

Justice Camacho, who handles many vehicular cases, said that anytime someone causes an accident and flees, he feels they have “a serious moral flaw.”

“How do you claim he is your bother? ‘We were best friends’? How do you walk away from that burning car and leave him and then try to blame him?” Justice Camacho said. “You’re not his brother.”

The judge said he hoped the 20 years Mr. Pantosin spent on the lam were torturous for him.

“The one word for them was courage,” Justice Camacho said of the victim’s family. “The one word for you is coward. You are a coward. I hope you learn something from them.”

Mr. Pantosin had faced 5 to 15 years maximum, but took a plea deal in December with the promise of two to six years. “I wish the sentence could be more. But it can’t,” Justice Camacho said.

Martin Lorenzotti of Central Islip, who represented Mr. Pantosin, said his client was remorseful. Afterward, he said, “Hopefully, now all parties involved can put this horrible incident behind them.”

After the sentencing, Andrea Illaisaca shared two photographs of her father. Her family does not have many photos of him.

“My dad was a very humble, loving, responsible, and hard-working man,” she said. “He worked hard to provide for us.” He worked as a painter and a houseman at Gurney’s Resort in Montauk. He came from Cuenca in Ecuador and had been in East Hampton, where his family still lives, for about six years before his death.

While they were both from Ecuador, the two men met in East Hampton and had been friends for about five years, Ms. Illaisaca said.

“I am at peace and so is my family because we were able to forgive and not keep any grudge in our hearts,” Ms. Illaisaca added. “God has helped us in this process and I am no one to condemn or even agree or disagree with the prison sentence. No matter how much time he is in jail for it, it isn’t bringing my dad back,” she said. “I only hope that he repents from the bottom of his heart and God will do his justice.”

This article was updated with the version that appeared in print on Jan. 31, 2019. 

Wilson IllaisacaIllaisaca Family Photo