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N.Y. Man to be tried for DUI death of Police officer, despite not being behind the wheel

January 19, 2016  |  Posted by: JammedUp Staff
N.Y. Man to be tried for DUI death of Police officer, despite not being behind the wheel

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A New York man who was not behind the wheel of a car when a police officer leaning against a guardrail was struck and killed is set to stand trial for vehicular homicide.

Prosecutors have charged 28-year-old James Ryan and are arguing that his drunken driving on the Long Island Expressway led to a series of events that ended in the October 2012 crash that fatally killed Nassau County Police Officer Joseph Olivieri, who at the time was investigating two accidents allegedly caused by Ryan.

The auto accidents have already been the focus of court battles, which includes a decision from an appellate court supporting Ryan’s 16-count indictment. However, the defense attorney representing Ryan, Marc Gann calls the case a clear overreach by the prosecutors.

“I think the district attorney’s office are blinded by the allegations of alcohol use, There’s nobody else to blame criminally, so they blame Ryan. … It’s very unusual for prosecutors to charge a person who was not behind the wheel of a car with a vehicular death,” Gann said

The 28-year-old part-time student faces up to 25 years in prison if found guilty of a litany of charges that include aggravated vehicular homicide, manslaughter and driving while intoxicated.

Officer Joseph Olivieri

Officer Joseph Olivieri

“The case centers around a factual situation, which is rare and relatively unique,” according to St. John’s law professor Joseph McCormack, who also serves as a traffic safety resource prosecutor for the state of New York.

McCormack said prosecutors are employing the legal principle of “causation/foreseeability,” where defendants get charged for events that are foreseen as a result of their actions.

One such case involved a New York City man convicted of murder in 1994 after a Police officer who had been chasing after him during a robbery investigation died after he fell to his death through a skylight back.

Also, Prosecutors in Nassau County, New York convicted a man of vehicular manslaughter in 2013 after a motorcyclist riding on a motorbike crashed into his car after he had an accident while drinking and driving.

Prosecutors say Ryan was driving in his Toyota when he hit a BMW on the LIE, when he stopped in the high-occupancy lane, another vehicle hit Ryan’s car. An SUV failed to see the cars involved in the accidents and careened into Ryan’s Toyota before fatally crashing into Olivieri.

At the time of the accident, Ryan had a blood-alcohol level of 0.13, above the state’s 0.08 legal threshold of drunkenness after he was drinking at a bar in Manhattan.

A state judge had dismissed the charges, ruling that Olivieri’s death was “solely attributable” to the SUV driver, who was not charged.

However, an appeals court reversed the state court’s decision and reinstated the charges against Ryan.

Ryan is escorted out of court in 2012

Ryan is escorted out of court in 2012

The appellate court wrote in its decision, “It is 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.”

The ruling also stated that Ryan’s actions “need not be the sole cause of death and, indeed, the defendant need not have committed the fatal act to be liable.”

Maryland attorney Leonard Stam is the dean of the National College for DUI Defense disagreed with the appellate court’s decision.

“It looks as if the appeals court took a much broader view, in its decision. It is not reasonably foreseeable that driving drunk would cause that kind of fatal accident.” Stamm said in an email

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