By all accounts George Gibbons was a great guy; beloved by family, friends, neighbors and customers at his business, Gibbons’ Home, a local bar in Maspeth. He had worked for years as a bartender, saving enough money to finally open his own business. It was his dream come true. He was a neighborhood fixture, looked upon by all who knew him as the guy who was always smiling; one without a mean bone in his body, always there to lend a hand.
On Oct. 15 last year, George Gibbons did exactly what so many of us do every day of our lives and most probably take for granted. He left his house to go to work, fully expecting to come home afterward.
But that’s not what happened. Instead George Gibbons, 37-years-old, went to work and when it was time to come back he got into a livery cab—he didn’t drive—and began the journey home. But the cab made it only as far as the service road of the Long Island Expressway where it was met by another car. A Chrysler Sebring going at a high rate of speed, in the wrong direction.
That’s when fate introduced George Gibbons to Peter Rodriguez, a criminal, with a history of arrests for narcotics and assault. He was on probation at the time of the crash for a gang assault that occurred while serving time for another crime.
The car driven by Rodriguez slammed headfirst into the Lincoln Town car just a few blocks from the bar; George Gibbons was thrown out of the back seat and into the lap of the cab driver.
Two men jumped from the Chrysler—Rodriguez and his passenger Andre McKanney, and fled the scene. McKanney returned shortly afterward. He was taken to Elmhurst Hospital for treatment and charged with possession of marijuana. The cab driver and George Gibbons were also taken to Elmhurst Hospital. The 59-year-old cabbie was treated for severe injuries and lacerations. George Gibbons was dead on arrival.
Reaction to the accident brought police, elected officials, family, friends and the entire community together in search of the man who took the life of the beloved George Gibbons. A $10,000 reward was posted for information leading to the arrest of Rodriguez.
The tip that led police to Rodriguez came one month later. On Nov. 15 he was apprehended while hiding in a hotel in Connecticut.
Since his arrest, Rodriguez’s lawyer has been brought into court four times. Each time, the Gibbons family and a host of supporters appeared at the courthouse.
Each time, another postponement, another push of the calendar. Until that is, the scheduled appearance last week when the family of George Gibbons was told by the Queens DA’s office that they should expect a plea deal the next time they return to court on April 20.
Originally charged with second-degree manslaughter, second-and third- degree assault, criminally negligent homicide and leaving the scene of an accident, Rodriguez, according to sources, will instead plead guilty only to second degree manslaughter and leaving the scene. The first set of charges would have seen Rodriguez in prison for a maximum of 15 years. Instead, with the 3 1/2 to 7 year sentence attached to the proposed plea, he will serve less than half the original sentence at its maximum.
Time and time again we have used this space to discuss with you the failure of the justice system to balance equitably the sentencing of convicted criminals for their heinous acts. Time and time again we have demonstrated in this same space the harsh sentencing of some far less deserving than others who wind up serving more time for less severe crimes.
At what point can we hope to see the scales of justice balanced? Or can we presume ourselves to be as naïve as George Gibbons who merely expected to go home and start over again the next day?
If there appears to be undertones of anger in our message here then surely we have not been clear. We are not angered by the notion of Rodriguez’ plea deal. We are outraged. Disgusted. Disappointed. And sadly, not at all surprised.
Were the DA’s office to line up the Gibbons family and spit in their faces one by one, it would somehow seem less cowardly than to give them the news of a plea deal for the monster that is Peter Rodriguez. He is human garbage, obviously beyond rehabilitation.
If he serves the maximum 7 years of his sentence he will emerge from prison at 43 years of age. Certainly young enough to continue on his criminal path for many years to come. At the same time, those that knew and loved George Gibbons will feel the pain of his absence, for he will not see his 43rd birthday.
Perhaps the next family that has to deal with the consequence of his actions will fare better in the court system. Because without a doubt, Peter Rodriguez will return to the courtroom.
For now we can only hope that the judge who imposes sentencing on this demon will not spare him one second of time from the maximum 7 years. We can also hope that any efforts for future parole will be denied. It seems neither of these requests are too much to ask for, but in consideration of other cases assumed to be a slam dunk for the good guys and for justice, it unfortunately appears a very tall order.
It’s an unlikely comparison—one that sets George Gibbons and Peter Rodriguez on the same field. But it turns out there is something they have in common; neither of them got enough time.