Long Island man not guilty of vehicular homicide, guilty of other charges in death of Nassau County officer

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Kristin Thorne reports a man was convicted of manslaughter in the death of a Nassau County police officer.

A Long Island man was found guilty on multiple charges but acquitted on the most serious charge in the death of a Nassau County police officer responding to a crash on the Long Island Expressway

28-year-old James Ryan of Oakdle was found not guilty of the top charge of aggravated vehicular homicide, but convicted on 10 other charges, including manslaughter and aggravated criminally negligent homicide.

He faces 3 1/2 to 20 years in prison.

Ryan was found guilty of driving drunk on the Long Island Expressway on Oct. 18, 2012, causing a multi-vehicle accident that Officer Joseph Olivieri Jr. was responding to when he was fatally struck by a vehicle.

"I think this is a message to everybody to look at someone who is 25-years-old at the time, thought he was going to have a good time, go into the city, party a little bit, have a couple of drinks and look what happened," said James Carver of the Nassau County PBA.

What happened is James Ryan, not even 30 years old, is facing the next two decades of his life in prison.

And the father of police officer Olivieri is now without his son.

"We'll be there for the Olivieri family and we'll be there for the members of this department and we'll never forget police officer Olivieri," said Acting Nassau County Police Commissioner Thomas Krumpter.

Prosecutors argued that Ryan should be held responsible for the death of the police officer for drinking and driving and causing the accident on the LIE.

Olivieri was crossing the highway to get to some stranded motorists when he was hit and killed by a different car.

That driver is not being held responsible for Olivieri's death.

Ryan's attorney has said and continues to say that is the driver who should be facing charges, not Ryan.

"I don't think we've heard the last of this case. I certainly hope that we haven't because I do think that the law needs to be clarified in this area," said attorney Marc Gann.

"We would never have been in this situation that officer Olivieri found himself in had it not been for the actions of the defendant," said Nassau County DA Madeline Singas.

Although Ryan wasn't actually the driver who struck the officer in October 2012, he created the situation that led to the accident, Nassau County Assistant District Attorney Michael Bushwack told jurors.

"He forged a link in the chain of causes that killed Officer Olivieri," Bushwack said. "Officer Olivieri died protecting the person whose recklessness killed him."

Defense attorney Zeena Abdi argued, however, that the SUV driver who actually struck the police officer - and who was never charged - is the one responsible.

"This case is a stretch," Abdi said. "It is a tragic case, but it is a stretch. The fact that he was drinking does not mean he caused Officer Olivieri's death."

Ryan's attorney said they would be appealing the jury's decision. "We were obviously hopeful all along that this would go our way," said attorney Marc Gann. "The appellate issue is still a significant one. I do believe that the appellate courts will look at this and are going to change what happened here."

Ryan's trial on aggravated vehicular homicide, manslaughter, drunken driving and other charges began last month following years of vigorous court battles. Ryan, a part-time student, faced up to 25 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charges.

According to prosecutors, Ryan's Toyota first hit a BMW on the expressway shortly before 5 a.m., stopped 1,500 feet down the road in the high-occupancy lane and then was hit by another car. A few minutes later, an SUV driver apparently did not see Ryan's vehicle, which had been turned sideways from the earlier crashes, and smashed into Ryan's car before hitting Olivieri.

Ryan allegedly had been drinking in a Manhattan bar and had a blood-alcohol level of 0.13, which is higher than the state's 0.08 threshold, according to court documents.

Bushwack said Ryan's actions "caused chaos on the expressway that night."

A state judge initially dismissed the charges, finding Olivieri's death was "solely attributable" to the SUV driver.

A state appeals court later reinstated the charges, saying it was "reasonably foreseeable that the defendant's conduct would cause collisions and that the police would respond and be required to be in the roadway, where they would be exposed to the potentially lethal danger presented by fast-moving traffic."

Joseph McCormack, an adjunct law professor at St. John's University who serves as the New York state traffic safety resource prosecutor, says prosecutors are employing the legal principle of "causation/foreseeability," in which suspects are charged in events that are foreseeable results of their actions.

In one such case from 1994, a New York City man was convicted of murder in the death of an officer who was had been chasing after him in a robbery investigation and fatally fell through a skylight.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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