N E W Y O R K, June 12, 2002 -- It was one of last year's most highly publicized drunk driving cases: A pregnant woman and her family were struck and killed, and the drunk driver behind the wheel was a cop who had been partying all day.
Former NYPD Police Officer Joseph Gray told ABCNEWS in an exclusive jailhouse interview that it is "possible" his reflexes might not have been as good as they should have been, since he had consumed more than 12 beers the day the accident occurred in a Brooklyn, N.Y., neighborhood.
But he denied his reflexes were the real issue.
"I don't think I would have seen them any sooner," said Gray, who is serving five to 15 years in prison on manslaughter charges. "If the circumstances are exactly as I've stated, the most sober person driving a car would still have hit these people."
Gray, who was convicted on May 3, said he is sorry for what happened, but he believes any other driver could have hit the Herrera family because they appeared out of nowhere, and crossed the street against the light.
‘He’s a Monster’
The accident happened last Aug. 4. Gray — who had spent the entire day drinking — was driving down a Brooklyn street at what turned out to be just the wrong moment. Maria Herrera, 24, was crossing that street, heading to her mother's house with her 4-year-old son, Andy, and her 16-year-old sister, Delcia Pena. Gray mowed them down.
Immediately, one frantic witness dialed 911.
"A pregnant woman, oh my God, all three of them are laying out on the floor," the caller said. "The car just hit all three. They all flew up in the air."
Maria Herrera, who was eight months pregnant at the time, was taken to a local hospital where her unborn child was delivered by Caesarean section. The infant, Ricardo Herrera, died 12 hours later.
Maria and Delcia's mother called Gray a "monster, " while headlines labeled him a "liar," and an "animal." Prosecutors said that Gray's blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit.
Call for Justice
The community of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, rallied around the victims, protesting when Gray was initially released without bail, and setting up a spontaneous memorial of cards and flowers at the crash site.
"We want justice," they chanted at a rally. Meanwhile, Maria Herrera's husband was suffering a private grief, the loss of his entire family.
"I will never have peace, I will never be happy with none of this because my life has been destroyed," he said.
The Pena and Herrera families have been outspoken in their anger, and in their grief. But Gray has not spoken about what happened until now. He did so to try to explain that the tragedy goes beyond the victims and their families, Gray said.
Two Family Tragedies
"Everything's been printed in the press, and its been in the media," Gray said. "There's another family involved in this. As much as a tragedy as it was for the Herrera and Pena families, which is unimaginable, there's another tragedy involved with my family too."
Gray has a wife and three daughters. His wife spoke warmly of their family life.
"It was a nice, nice family to come home to," said his wife, Diana Gray. "It was great."
From prison, Gray said his family holds a place in his heart.
"Oh, my children — they mean everything to me," he said.
Gray said that prior to the accident, he never felt that he had a problem with alcohol.
"I never thought I [had a drinking problem], but you know, it's starting to look like maybe I did and didn't realize it," Gray said. "I never thought so before, you know, but I have nothing but time now to think about it."
Party in Motion
On the day of the accident, Gray started drinking at 8 a.m. in the parking lot of the 72nd Precinct police station where he worked. He and some fellow cops were celebrating the impending wedding of one of the officers.
"We went out, met up with a couple of guys in the parking lot," Gray recalled. "We started having a few beers, a few more guys came."
For hours, he and other cops hung out in the parking lot, drinking beer and talking, but Gray said he did not feel intoxicated.
"I didn't feel drunk, no," he said.
At around noon, the group decided to move the party to a nearby topless bar, which offered a free buffet and more beer. Although he had drunk between four and six beers at that point, Gray said he did not feel hesitant about getting in the car.
"I have gone out before, we've gone out to bars and stuff and you have three, four beers and you get in the car and you drive home," Gray said.
Gray was at the bar, on and off, until after 8 o'clock that night, drinking. He admitted to having at least a dozen beers over the course of the day, but said he still felt OK. The former police officer acknowledged that by law, he understood that he should not have been in the car at that point.
But he insisted that he was in control when he drove down a dark road in Brooklyn the night of the accident.
‘Look What You Did’
"I was going through the intersection and I — I just saw somebody in front of me," Gray said. "I had just instinctively put my hand like I was going to blow the horn — and slammed on the brakes at the same time."
But it was too late. Gray didn't realized what had happened until he got out of his mangled car.
"I just realized I hurt a person. I looked, and she looked badly hurt," Gray said. "And the next thing I know, some guy came and grabs me by the arm. He said 'look what you did, look what you did.' And he's pointing. And then I saw the little boy on the bumper of my car."
Gray maintained that the victims came out of nowhere, and were crossing the street against the light, making the accident unavoidable. He did not believe he was drunk, according to his own definition, when he hit the family.
In terms of responsibility, he doesn't mention his drinking as a factor.
"I was driving the car, I am totally responsible for that. If I wasn't driving the car, if I wasn't there, this accident wouldn't have happened," he said.
Gray again apologized to the family, as he had done in court.
"I'm terribly sorry," he said. "I don't think there's anybody in the world that feels more sorry over this than I do. I think about this constantly, day and night. It's always on my mind. Always. I don't think I'll ever forgive myself for anything that led up to that accident."