On the run from East Hampton police for 19 years

Former Fugitive Pleads Guilty To Manslaughter

Pantosin, then and now.

The man who was a fugitive from justice for over 19 years after drunkenly crashing a car in Springs, then leaving his friend to die in the ensuing blaze, pleaded guilty December 19 in the Central Islip courtroom of State Justice Fernando Camacho to charges of manslaughter and vehicular manslaughter. Wilson Pantosin, 45, will be sentenced by Justice Camacho January 28, exactly 20 years after the crash.

         It was a rainy night on January 28, 1999. Pantosin was driving a 1995 Dodge Neon north on winding Hog Creek Road. In the passenger seat was Wilson Illaisaca. Both men were 25 at the time, and both were originally from Ecuador. Pantosin lost control of the Neon, swerving across the southbound lane. The Neon left the roadway, crashing into a utility pole and a tree before rolling over, and catching fire. Pantosin pulled himself out of the burning wreck.

         James Jahoda, an officer with the East Hampton Town police, was the first to arrive on the scene. It was just before midnight. “The car was in flames. He was standing outside the car,” Jahoda remembered on December 20 of this year. “He said he was the only one in the car.” Jahoda retired from the department in 2007 after 22 years. He now is a court officer in East Hampton Town Justice Court, and also runs a security business.

         Jahoda charged Pantosin with driving while intoxicated, as the Springs Fire Department doused the blaze. That was when Jahoda was called over to the car. Inside, Jahoda remembers, were the barely recognizable remains of Illisaca’s charred lifeless body.

         Pantosin suffered scalp wounds, and was taken to Southampton Hospital where he was treated and released back to police custody, but not before a sample of his blood was obtained.

         Pantosin was arraigned in East Hampton Town Justice Court January 29, 1999. Bail was initially set at $10,000. Unable to post that amount, Pantosin was taken to county jail. However, six days later, an application was made, and accepted by the court, to lower the bail to $1000. That amount was posted, and Pantosin, after turning over his Ecuadorean passport, was released. He then disappeared.

         The results from the blood sample, after being tested by the Suffolk County crime lab, came back with a reading of .22 of 1 percent alcohol in the blood. Today, that reading would have triggered the raised charge of aggravated driving while intoxicated, but that law did not exist at the time.

         More than four years later, facing the five year New York State statute of  limitations for manslaughter charges, an indictment against the fugitive was obtained from a grand jury. Pantosin was charged with manslaughter, two counts of vehicular manslaughter, all felonies, a charge of DWI based on the arresting officer’s observations at the scene, and DWI based on the blood test.

         In March of this year, the Suffolk County Fugitive Squad was notified by authorities in Harris County, Texas, that Pantosin had been located. It is not clear what brought Pantosin to local police attention. Officers from Suffolk County flew to Harris County and took Pantosin into custody.

         There was no deal waiting for Pantosin. Maggie Bopp of District Attorney Tim Sini’s Vehicular Crime Bureau is the prosecuting attorney on the case. Bopp has an East Hampton tie, as well. Years after the incident, she was one of the lead prosecutors assigned to East Hampton, and tried several cases there, obtaining guilty verdicts.

         Pantosin pleaded guilty as charged. He faces a maximum sentence of five to 15 years in State Prison, likely followed by deportation.