MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A Queens teenager involved in a fiery crash on Long Island that killed his four friends was sentenced to five to 15 years in prison on Tuesday.
Saying he saw little remorse from Joseph Beer during the trial and that he must be punished for his reckless disregard in the tragedy he caused, the judge decided against a four-year youthful-offender sentence for Beer, who was 17 at the time of the crash.
“Whatever it is, it’s not going to bring back my son,” Sharon Rajapa, the mother of one of the victims, said of the sentence. “My son is already dead and that’s never going to change, whether he has 10 years, 15 years or 25 years.”
Beer’s attorney promised an appeal based on the denial of youth offender status. Pending that appeal, Beer will have to serve five years in prison before being eligible for parole, but that includes the nearly two years he’s already served, CBS 2’s Diane Macedo reported.
Beer, now 19, apologized to the victims’ families in a two-page statement he read Tuesday prior to being sentenced by Nassau County Court Judge David Sullivan.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forgive myself knowing that I killed four young men who are like brothers to me,” Beer said.
Beer pleaded guilty in July to aggravated vehicular homicide.
He told the judge he had smoked marijuana and was speeding when his high-performance sports car crashed into a tree on the Southern State Parkway in October 2012.
All five people in the vehicle were ejected.
Darian Ramnarine, Christopher Khan, Neal Rajapa and Peter Kanhai were killed. Beer was the lone survivor and had only minor injuries.
“Life hasn’t been the same since my son died, but I forgive Joseph because I have to move on,” Sharon Rajapa said.
A jury in June had deadlocked on the aggravated vehicular homicide charge. A month later, Beer pleaded guilty, saying he wanted to spare the victims’ families the ordeal of a second trial.
“Those were his friends. you know, and I don’t think he’s thinking about anything else,” said Beer’s father, Aditia Beer.
Bryant Barr, stepfather of victim Peter Kanhai, said after the sentencing that it was “a tragedy on both sides,” including for Beer’s family.
Barr said his family “can find forgiveness in our heart” even though he thought Beer exhibited “a lack of remorse.”
Beer also pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of marijuana.
“The behavior of this young man was not of just a flight of fleeting moment of youthful indiscretion,” said Maureen McCormick, Chief of Vehicular Crimes in the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office.
Defense attorney Todd Greenberg had argued that unlike blood-alcohol standards for drunken driving, police and prosecutors have yet to develop a reliable measurement for impairment from marijuana.
An expert testified that because Beer was a chronic marijuana smoker, his body’s ability to process the active ingredient in marijuana may be different from someone who is an occasional user.
Before imposing sentence, the judge noted weeks after the crash, Beer had his bail revoked because he failed a drug test for marijuana.
“He must be punished,” Sullivan said, calling the crash, “one of the most horrific scenes in the county’s history.”
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