MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – The man accused of causing a crash on the Long Island Expressway that ultimately led to the death of a Nassau County police officer pleaded not guilty and was released on $120,000 bail Friday.
James Ryan was arraigned in First District Court in Hempstead on vehicular manslaughter, reckless endangerment, criminal possession of a controlled substance, driving while intoxicated and other charges.
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When asked prior to his court appearance by reporters how he felt about the crash, Ryan said “I feel bad” and then offered his condolences to Officer Joseph Olivieri’s family.
Police said Ryan was drunk when he caused a multi-vehicle wreck on the L.I.E. that set off a tragic chain of events that ended with Olivieri’s death.
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Prosecutors said Ryan’s blood-alcohol level was .09 percent. They also said Ryan was in possession of an Adderall pill. However, Ryan’s attorney, Brian Davis, said his client had a prescription for the drug.
Ryan’s attorney said he and his family are crushed. His father, a 32-year veteran of the Port Authority Police, and his mother, who was in tears in court, said they were sad about Officer Olivieri’s death, but insisted their son is not to blame.
“It’s a very unfortunate situation,” Davis said. “But it’s far too simplistic to say that but for my client this would not have happened. There were intervening events between the accident and the officer being struck.”
The initial crash happened around 4:40 a.m. Thursday between exits 34 and 36. Police said Ryan, who was driving a Toyota, struck a BMW. That’s when police said he left the scene of the accident and continued eastbound on the L.I.E.
Police said Ryan then abruptly stopped in the HOV lane parallel to Exit 35 and collided with a Honda Civic.
Responding to the crash, Oliveri positioned his patrol car in front of the Honda and got out to help.
At that point, a Cadillac SUV was heading east in the HOV lane. Police said the driver of the Cadillac saw the patrol car with its flashing lights and saw the Honda, but didn’t see the Toyota until it was too late.
“He doesn’t see the Toyota because it is perpendicular to the roadway and no lights are visible to him. He observes it at the last minute,” Detective Lt. John Azzata said at a news conference Thursday.
That’s when the SUV hit the Toyota and then the officer.
“He tries to avoid the Toyota Camry,” Azzata said. “He does strike the Toyota Camry and then strikes Police Officer Oliveri.”
Olivieri, a divorced father of two, was rushed to North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset where he died.
“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 the fallen officer.
Olivieri was a 19-year police veteran — five years with the NYPD and 14 with Nassau County.
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.
In the past decade, 25 officers have been struck on the same stretch of the expressway between exits 35 and 41. New safety lanes for traffic stops are in the works to prevent another police fatality.
Ryan’s license was also suspended. He is due back in court early next month.
Meanwhile, the Cadillac driver who actually hit Officer Olivieri has not been charged or even identified. Police said that is because it was an accident and he didn’t commit a crime, but they added the investigation isn’t over.
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