ONLY ON CLIFFVIEW PILOT: A Hasbrouck Heights man who killed his best friend in a drunk-driving crash was sentenced to three years in state prison — but not before being forgiven by the dead man’s mother, in a speech that brought tears to the eyes of many in a Hackensack courtroom.
The last that Patricia Spinnler of North Haledon said she’d heard from her son, George Kantakis, he texted her after midnight on March 29, 2012, saying, “I’m on my way home and I love you.”
A short time later, a 2002 Ford Taurus driven by an intoxicated Lukasz Skibicki came speeding around a curve on Route 208 in Fair Lawn, hurtled off the highway and hit a tree near the Fair Lawn Road exit, authorities said.
Skibicki (inset, above), 23, was hospitalized in police custody at St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center in Paterson with a fractured skull.
More serious charges were brought after Kantakis (main photo), his passenger, was pronounced dead.
“In the hospital, he kept saying “I should have died’,” Skibicki’s attorney, Emile Lisboa, said Friday in court. “He couldn’t go to George’s funeral.”
Saying he deserved punishment, Skibicki told Presiding Superior Court Judge Liliana DeAvila-Silebi that he “promised George’s mother I would take care of him. But I was driving in a reckless manner.
“George was like a brother to me. We were best friends. Through hard times, he was always there for me….,” he added. “I should not have been driving that night.
“I wish I could take away the pain I caused his family.”
Spinnler said she he thought her son was home that night, until the police came to her door with the horrific news.
Because Skibicki was so dear to George, she said, she knew he would have wanted her to forgive him.
“He saw something in Lukasz. He loved him dearly,” she said.
“George would want his friend to be okay, and I say, ‘I forgive you, Luke.’ As a mother, knowing what it feels like to lose your son – he has to live with this every day of his life,” Spinnler said. “As a mother I would want him to do community service, do something good in George’s memory.”
DeAvila-Silebi added that: “The reason we are all here is to learn life lessons. It’s all nourishment for the soul. That’s what George’s purpose was, to bring you back where you should be – respect for life, and respect for yourself. Drinking can cause harm to others at any time.”
In addition to the three years state prison, the judge imposed a 36-month license suspension and mandatory DWI penalties.
She urged Skibicki to “do something when you get out that honors George’s life.”
“I want my mother to know I am deeply grateful for all she has done for me,” Skibicki told the judge. “I wish there was some way I could change what happened.”
STORY: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter