An Oakdale man has been indicted on upgraded charges in the alleged drunken-driving crash that led to the death of a Nassau County police officer on the Long Island Expressway last fall.
James Ryan pleaded not guilty Wednesday at Nassau County court to vehicular homicide, second-degree manslaughter, vehicular assault, assault and criminally negligent homicide.
The 26-year-old had initially pleaded not guilty after his arrest to charges of vehicular manslaughter, driving while intoxicated, reckless driving, reckless endangerment, leaving the scene an accident and traffic violations.
“He’s been, was and continues to be devastated by all of the circumstances,” said Ryan’s Garden City-based attorney, Marc Gann, noting that Ryan’s father is a police officer.
James Carver, president of the Nassau County Police Benevolent Association, said the family of Highway Patrolman Joseph Olivieri—the third of four Nassau officers killed in the line of duty in a 20-month span—is also “devastated.”
Prosecutors said Ryan, who is free on $120,000 bail, was driving his Toyota Camry eastbound on the LIE after leaving a Manhattan club when he struck a cab and fled the scene despite his car being damaged on Oct. 18. Shortly later he slammed on his brakes, when an off-duty New York City police detective rear-ended him, causing both vehicles to spin out, according to investigators.
Officer Olivieri was first on the scene, parked his patrol car behind the detective’s and walked across the road to check on Ryan, whose car was blocking the HOV lane, when an SUV hit Olivieri and Ryan’s car, authorities said. The 13-year police veteran died shortly later.
The detective, Ed Wilson, suffered a fractured sternum, multiple fractured ribs and heart palpitations. Ryan’s blood-alcohol content was between .13 and .14 percent at the scene, prosecutors said.
“This defendant had every opportunity to prevent this tragedy, from not driving drunk in the first place to pulling over after the initial crash,” Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said. “Yet his selfishness dictated every decision, and now a dedicated police officer and family man is dead.”
But, Gann said it is “weird” that the SUV driver who struck Olivieri was not charged and his client, who’s facing up to 25 years in prison, was. “I believe that there’s a very, very significant causation issue here,” Gann said.
Carver disagreed. “He caused those series of events to happen that ultimately resulted in Joseph’s death,” the patrol officers’ union head said. “He should be held responsible.”
The PBA is hosting a benefit honoring Olivieri and Officer Arthur Lopez, a member of the elite Emergency Services Unit who was gunned down a week after Olivieri’s death. The benefit will be held 3-9 p.m. Saturday at The Sands in Atlantic Beach.