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DA: Charges Upgraded Against Driver In L.I.E. Crash That Killed Nassau County Cop

James Ryan (credit: Nassau County Police Department)

James Ryan (credit: Nassau County Police Department)

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MINEOLA, N.Y (CBSNewYork) – A Long Island man will face stiffer charges for allegedly causing a chain reaction crash that left a Nassau County police officer dead.

James Ryan, 26, was arraigned Wednesday on upgraded charges including aggravated vehicular homicide, manslaughter, aggravated vehicular assault, criminally negligent homicide and driving while intoxicated, among others, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said.

Ryan was drunk when he caused a multi-vehicle wreck on the Long Island Expressway last October that ultimately led to the death of Officer Joseph Olivieri, authorities said.

Ryan hit a BMW with his Toyota and then continued eastbound on the L.I.E., police said. He then stopped abruptly in the HOV lane near Exit 35 and crashed with a Honda Civic, police said.

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.

That’s when the SUV hit the Toyota and then the officer.

Officer Joseph Olivieri (credit: Handout)

Officer Joseph Olivieri (credit: Handout)

Ryan’s blood-alcohol content at the scene was between .13 and .14 percent, Rice 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” Rice said. “Yet his selfishness dictated every decision and now a dedicated police officer and family man is dead.”

The Nassau County PBA president also reacted Wednesday to the new charges filed in the case.

“The defendant in this case comes from a law enforcement family. No matter what walk of life you come from, you still have to act in a responsible way, don’t drink and drive,” Nassau County PBA President James Carver told WCBS 880′s Sophia Hall.

“I think this is the key here – here’s somebody that was alleged to have been driving while intoxicated, caused an auto accident and then tried to flee that scene and not get caught. And he wound up causing another auto accident which wound up resulting in the death of Joe Olivieri. I think justice has got to be served, that he’s got to pay the price for that,” Carver added.

The new charges announced Wednesday are in addition to the original charges, that included vehicular manslaughter, driving while intoxicated, reckless driving, reckless endangerment, leaving the scene an accident and others.

“These upgraded charges are indicative of the violence of these crashes and the incredible damage James Ryan has caused,” Rice said. “My office will aggressively prosecute this case to ensure that the memory of Joseph Olivieri  is honored and justice is done.”

Olivieri was a 19-year police veteran — five years with the NYPD and 14 with Nassau County.

The Cadillac driver who actually hit Olivieri has not been charged or even identified.

Ryan’s attorney said his client is not responsible for the officer’s death and instead, the driver of the Cadillac SUV should have been charged.

“The individual who operated the vehicle that actually struck and killed Officer Olivieri went around that traffic and yet walks away and isn’t charged with anything. To me if there’s somebody who should be charged with his death, that’s the individual that should be charged with his death,” Atty. Marc Gann said.

Ryan remains free on bail and is due back in court April 29. If convicted, he faces up to 25 years in prison.