A suburban New York man was convicted Thursday in the death of a police officer responding to a crash on the Long Island Expressway even though the officer was struck and killed by another motorist.
A Nassau County jury found 28-year-old James 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 faces up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced March 9.
Prosecutors said Nassau County Officer James Olivieri's October 2012 death was Ryan's fault because his reckless driving caused a chain-reaction crash. Ryan's Toyota hit a BMW on the Long Island Expressway after Ryan spent a night of 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 at the time.
District Attorney Madeline Singas said the jury, which began deliberating Tuesday, "delivered a message and that message is that a person is criminally responsible for the outcomes of their actions. In this case when you drive drunk and you drive recklessly then you are criminally responsible for the outcome."
Ryan had been free on bail but was remanded to custody pending sentencing. His attorney, Marc Gann, said after the verdict that he intends to appeal.
During the trial, 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.
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.
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 fatally fell through a skylight.
"I do believe that the appellate courts are going to look at this and they're going to change what happened here," Gann said. "So I don't think we've heard the last of this case. I do think the law needs to be clarified in this matter."