NORTH HILLS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – A veteran Nassau County highway patrol officer was struck and killed while responding to an accident on the Long Island Expressway in North Hills early Thursday morning, officials said.
Officer Joseph Olivieri, 43, was struck after he got out of his patrol car to investigate the multi-vehicle accident that closed the eastbound lanes of the expressway.
Police said 25-year-old James Ryan, the driver of the vehicle allegedly responsible for the two crashes Oliveri was responding to, was arrested and will be arraigned Friday, CBS 2′s Carolyn Gusoff reported.
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During the initial crash, which occurred around 4:40 a.m. between exits 34 and 36, police said Ryan struck a BMW. That’s when police said he left the scene of the initial accident and continued eastbound on the LIE.
Police said Ryan then abruptly stopped in the HOV lane parallel to Exit 35 and was struck by a Honda Civic. Oliveri positioned his patrol car in front of the Honda and exited to aid those involved in the crash.
Officer Olivieri, who had been on the force since 1998, responded and got out to help Ryan, who was injured. That’s when yet another driver, in a Cadillac Escalade, approached in the HOV lane and struck the officer after not seeing him, CBS 2′s Gusoff reported.
Olivieri, a divorced father of two, was rushed to North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset where he died.
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Ryan is being charged with vehicular manslaughter, two counts of reckless endangerment, criminal possession of a control substance, reckless driving, driving while intoxicated and leaving an incident without a report.
Olivieri cheated death once before. Twelve years ago he was rescued by fellow officers who literally lifted his overturned patrol car. He broke both arms and a leg but recovered and returned to the job.
“We’re proud of his service, he’s a hero, a heroic man,” said Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano, who has ordered flags at government buildings to be flown at half-staff through Nov. 18 in honor of Olivieri.
“What I can promise is that we will get to the bottom of exactly what happened this morning, and that we will continue to work tirelessly every day to protect those who risk their lives for the safety of our communities,” Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said.
Olivieri’s stunned neighbors in his Middle Island condominium community could barely speak after hearing the news Thursday.
“I wish you knew him. You missed out knowing a cool guy,” Laura Linton said.
“He loved his community. If there was any problem, he helped out. He was a very nice gentleman,” Mark Zanickrowsky added.
In the last 10 years, 25 officers have been struck between Exits 35 and 41 on the expressway, CBs 2’s Gusoff reported. The state recently approved construction of new safety lanes for police traffic stops.