Man who killed boy while drunk re-jailed

He was let out of prison in error

Posted: March 04, 2010

A MAYFAIR MAN who was driving drunk when he struck and killed a 12-year-old boy on Thanksgiving 2004, then walked away from the scene, was released from state prison 11 months ago - a year earlier than he should have been because of a clerical error.

But, after the mistake was discovered by the Daily News and officials began looking into the matter, state Board of Probation and Parole agents last night went to William Halloran's house and took him into custody.

"Since this person was not supposed to be out, to be eligible for parole at this time, we had to go pick him up," Leo Dunn, a state board spokesman said last night.

Halloran, 34, fatally struck Peter Roberto Jr., who was crossing Harbison Avenue near Comly Street on Nov. 25, 2004.

Informed of Halloran's re-arrest, Dolores Roberto, 40, the boy's mother, gasped last night from her Somerton home: "Oh, my God! Oh, wow! That's a relief."

She added that while it doesn't "compare to losing our son, it's just comforting to know he [Halloran] will be serving what he should have served."

Peter Roberto Sr., 44, the boy's father, said: "Great, great! I'm happy about that. I'm ecstatic."

The parents were shocked a week ago when the Daily News notified them that Halloran had been paroled April 2 - after three years in prison.

He had been sentenced by Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina to four to eight years in state prison, followed by four years' probation.

An upset Peter Roberto Sr. said last week: "He should at least do the time he was required to do." Dolores Roberto was so distraught upon hearing the news last week that she couldn't go to work the next day.

On May 26, 2006, Sarmina sentenced Halloran to three to six years in prison on a charge of homicide by vehicle while DUI, and to a consecutive one-to-two years in prison on a charge of leaving the scene of an accident.

He should not have been released from prison until at least March 23 of this year, four years after he was convicted by a jury.

The mess-up in Halloran's sentence occurred when a clerk in the Clerk of Quarter Sessions office, who was sitting in Sarmina's courtroom on the day of the sentencing, wrongly filled out a section of the court commitment papers, which tells the state Department of Corrections what an inmate's sentence is.

The typewritten form has a line on it that says: "This Sentence Is Concurrent With," followed by a blank space.

Below that, there is another typed line that says, "This Sentence Is Consecutive To," followed by a blank space.

The clerk noted the one-to two-year sentence on the wrong line, leading the state to believe that the term should be served at the same time as the homicide sentence, rather than after the homicide sentence was completed.

Reached by phone yesterday, the clerk, who is now retired, declined comment and did not remember Halloran's case.

Marc Gaillard, second deputy in the Clerk of Quarter Sessions office, said yesterday afternoon in response to the error: "There wasn't an error in the sentencing. It was just the correct information put one line higher than it should have been on the form."

He added that "the matter's already been corrected. It's in the hands of the state parole officials and they're processing it as we speak."

Sarmina said yesterday of the clerical mistake: "It's an unfortunate situation . . . It was an inadvertent clerical error. Hopefully, steps will be taken expeditiously so that the sentence that was ordered will be served."

State Sen. Michael Stack, who is holding a hearing next week in an effort to increase the mandatory-minimum sentence for someone who flees the scene of an accident, said yesterday that he was "completely outraged" by the error that allowed a "serious criminal" out of prison early.

"First of all, the family has to go through the emotional ordeal of losing the child . . . then for them to find out through an outside source, yourself, that he has been released without them knowing about it, released against the order of the judge, it's essentially cruel and unusual punishment," said Stack.

He said that tighter regulations are needed to ensure that "the sentences that the judge gives are enforced."

"A simple clerical error . . . is just inexcusable," he said, adding that the mistake points to a larger issue in the Clerk of Quarter Sessions office. "It's a problem of more than just one clerk."

Dunn said the state Department of Corrections is expected to determine this morning what Halloran's corrected release date should be.

Halloran hit Peter Roberto Jr. about 6:45 p.m. Thanksgiving Day 2004. The boy, who wore hearing aids because he was hearing-impaired, was crossing against a red light.

The Roberto family's civil attorney, John Fenerty Jr., said that according to evidence, Halloran was drinking at Rauchut's Tavern in the Northeast earlier that day, leaving "sometime before 3 p.m." At that time, Halloran's estimated blood-alcohol level was about 0.20. (The legal limit for driving is 0.08.)

Halloran walked home, took a nap then borrowed a friend's SUV, killing Peter Jr. soon after.

Fenerty said another driver who was behind Halloran was able to see the boy in the "wide, well-lit intersection" and was "outraged" Halloran did not stop.

A lawsuit filed on behalf of the Roberto family was settled with the tavern's insurance company, Fenerty said, for a "significant," but confidential amount.

A woman who answered the door last week at Halloran's home on Nesper Street near Hawthorne said Halloran would not comment on his case, then shut the door.

Tragedy also hit the Roberto family in 2008. Dolores Roberto's brother, George Gerhardt, 25, died after he was hit by a car while he was walking against a red light in Bensalem. Denise McErlane, now 42, of Langhorne, stayed at the scene and later pleaded guilty to driving under the influence.

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