A suburban New York man who was convicted in the death of a police officer on the Long Island Expressway was sentenced Wednesday to five years in prison even though the officer was struck and killed by another motorist.
James Ryan was convicted in February in the death of Nassau County Officer James Olivieri in October 2012. Prosecutors said Ryan's reckless driving caused the chain-reaction crash that killed Olivieri.
The case was watched closely by legal experts, who said it was rare for someone other than a driver directly involved in a crash to be charged. The charges were based on the legal principle of "causation/foreseeability," in which suspects are charged in events that are foreseeable results of their actions.
A jury found the 28-year-old Ryan guilty of 10 of 13 charges but acquitted him of the most serious one -- aggravated vehicular homicide. He was convicted on charges including aggravated criminally negligent homicide, vehicular manslaughter, drunken driving and reckless endangerment.
Ryan's Toyota hit a BMW on the Long Island Expressway after Ryan spent a night drinking in New York City. He then was hit by another car after stopping 1,500 yards down the highway. A few minutes later, an SUV driver smashed into Ryan's car before hitting Olivieri, who was out of his patrol vehicle talking to Ryan.
During the trial, defense attorney Marc Gann conceded his client had been drinking and had a blood-alcohol level of 0.13, which is higher than the state's threshold of 0.08. But the attorney said the SUV driver failed to avoid crashing into the wreckage from Ryan's earlier accident. That driver was never charged.
In one such case from 1994, a New York City man was convicted of murder in the death of an officer who had been chasing after him in a robbery investigation and fell to his death through a skylight.
Ryan's attorney has said he intends to appeal the conviction..