I-Team Exclusive: Forgotten Victim
By Walt Hunter
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Cynthia Onofrio remembers her shock when she was told by court officials the hearing for admitted DUI driver Vincent Marini, who had rammed her bike, fracturing her spine, was over – he had pled guilty and been sentenced in Medford, New Jersey Municipal Court two days earlier – but she was never told.
“My heart, my heart, it just dropped, ‘It’s over,it’s over’, are you kidding me?,” Onofrio told CBS 3’s Walt Hunter in an exclusive interview.
“I don’t think it’s fair, I think I should have been able to be there at that court hearing.”
Riding her bike along Church Road October 30th, Onofrio was rammed so hard the impact shattered her bike, her helmet and, as this X-ray shows, her spine, now held with pins and bars after a two-week hospital stay.
“I don’t get a chance to see this gentleman who almost killed me, I’m so thankful to be alive.”
A court transcript, obtained as part of this exclusive CBS 3 I-Team Investigation, reveals no one, including the judge, raised an question during the January 8th hearing about why Onofrio was there. Instead, the hearing went forward, Marini pleading guilty, his driver’s license suspended for 7 months, paying a fine, and walking free.
“He committed a crime,” Onofrio told Hunter. “He should be in jail.”
But the judge, without hearing a word from the victim, disagreed, although he did call Marini’s driving record – 8 suspensions, 28 violations, 4 for careless driving, and 4 for speeding, “abominable”.
“There’s been no justice to date, we’re fighting for justice, but no justice to date,”explained Onofrio’s attorney Michael van der Veen.
And, Onofrio says, there’s been no explanation from court officials why, after she, her attorney and family, wrote and called numerous times, the hearing went on without her.
“I said, ‘why wasn’t I notified?’, she told me, it wasn’t the court’s obligation to notify me.”
The New Jersey Motor Vehicle Code does say that victims must notify the court in writing if they wish to attend and be kept informed on hearings.
However, Onofrio and her attorney says they, in their words, “made pests” of themselves, inquiring frequently, but never being told about the January 8th hearing.
We tried to get answers from court officials, but there was no response. Marini’s attorney also declined comment. But the prosecutor has filed a motion to reopen the case, raising the possibility of a stiffer sentence and her voice at last being heard.
“It’s unfair, it’s just unfair,” Onofrio concluded with tears in her eyes.