By Christina Carrega
A drunk driver who admitted to crashing his car and leaving his friend to die in the burning vehicle may use the experience to teach a lesson to youngsters.
Saeed Ahmad pleaded guilty on Tuesday morning in Brooklyn Supreme Court for causing the death of Harleen Grewal after crashing his car into the median on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and leaving her to burn alive while he fled to the scene to aid himself.
His prosecutors are now recommending that he participate in Choices and Consequences, a drug and alcohol awareness program that may be assigned through the Department of Probation (DOP).
“I didn’t mean for anyone to get hurt. She was my friend,” said Ahmad to Justice Vincent Del Giudice during his plea hearing.
Ahmad, 24, told the judge in his own words that the morning of Oct. 13, 2017, he and Grewal were in Manhattan drinking “for several hours” when they decided to drive to Brooklyn.
“I knew my license was suspended but I drove anyway,” said Ahmad, who appeared to be reading from a written statement on the defense table while remaining handcuffed.
Ahmad was speeding in his Infiniti G35 around 4 a.m. when he tried to maneuver around a truck to avoid hitting another car. Instead, he crashed into the middle of the expressway.
“It exploded. As soon as it caught fire, I jumped out and tried to pull Harleen from the car. She was unconscious, I tried to pull her out, but my arms and legs were burning … I was in shock,” said Ahmad. Grewal’s mother cried in the opposite side of the courtroom gallery while being consoled by another relative.
Ahmad was caught on cellphone video, shot by someone in a passing car and obtained by WABC-7, walking away from the engulfed vehicle, hailing a yellow taxi and leaving the scene. “I didn’t call 911,” Ahmad said as he tried to hold back tears during his allocution.
Grewal, a 25-year-old from Astoria, was pronounced dead at the scene after other witnesses called for help.
Ahmad instructed the cab driver to take him to a nearby hospital where he took a blood alcohol test that showed his levels above the state’s legal limit of .08 percent.
After Admad was released from Staten Island University Hospital where he was treated for his burns, Brooklyn prosecutors charged him with manslaughter, but a grand jury then upgraded the charges to murder.
Justice Del Guidice then reduced the charges to second-degree manslaughter based on legal sufficiency. On Tuesday, Ahmad decided to avoid going to trial and to admit to his wrongdoing.
Ahmad pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter, DUI and leaving the scene of an incident in exchange for four to 14 years in prison. Prosecutors Theresa M. Shanahan and Joseph Mancino recommended that upon Ahmad’s release that he participate in the Choices and Consequences: An Alcohol and Other Drug Awareness Program through the Department of Probation (DOP).
“I have to live with this horrific tragedy every day. I hope when I get out, I can help someone at the Choices program so this never happens again,” said Ahmad. “I’m so sorry for what I did. If I could change anything, it would be to change everything I did that day.”
If DOP agrees to the recommended post-release supervised program for Ahmad, he would share his story with youth ages 12 to 18 who have gotten into alcohol- or drug-related trouble, according to the state’s Unified Court System.
“My client hopes to make a difference so that something like this will never happen again with someone else,” said Admad’s defense attorney, Michael Jaccarino of the firm Aidala, Bertuna & Kamins.
Justice Del Giudice is expected to sentence Ahmad on Jan. 9, at which time Grewal’s relatives are expected to give victim impact statements.