The driver who hit and fatally injured a Nassau police officer in a 2012 crash in which a different motorist is accused in the officer’s death testified Monday he didn’t have time to take enough evasive action after he saw the victim standing on the Long Island Expressway.
“When I saw Officer Olivieri, I tried to brake my vehicle and swerve to the right,” Francis Belizaire told jurors at the Mineola trial of James Ryan. “ … I tried my best not to drive into him but I just didn’t have enough time.”
Belizaire, 50, of Bay Shore, wasn’t criminally charged in the Oct. 18, 2012 death of Officer Joseph Olivieri Jr.
The Nassau district attorney’s office decided his actions weren’t criminal and he got immunity from the prosecution after testifying before the grand jury that indicted Ryan on aggravated vehicular homicide.
Prosecutors say the reckless actions of Ryan, 28, of Oakdale, caused Olivieri’s death because it was Ryan’s drunken driving that brought Olivieri to the scene of two crashes before Belizaire’s Cadillac Escalade struck and killed Olivieri.
Testimony has shown Olivieri was standing next to Ryan’s car in the HOV lane when he was struck.
Defense attorneys Marc Gann and Zeena Abdi say Belizaire, who works as a flagman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, is solely to blame for the officer’s death and what happened on the eastbound side of the LIE near exit 35 in North Hills were three separate crashes.
Belizaire testified he saw the lights of police vehicles as he approached the scene, and saw two cars over to the right of the highway, and slowed down in the HOV lane to 30 to 40 mph.
“I stayed in the HOV lane because everything was to the right of me,” he said of his initial impression of the scene.
But Belizaire said at the last second, as police lights in the area impeded his vision, from about two car lengths away he saw Olivieri standing in front of Ryan’s disabled Toyota Camry.
The witness said the Camry “was in a 90-degree angle into the divider” and the car’s lights weren’t on, adding, “that definitely would have drawn my attention.”
He testified that after the crash, he froze at first.
“I couldn’t move, I was in shock,” Belizaire told prosecutor Maureen McCormick, also acknowledging that his car didn’t have a valid inspection sticker at the time.
Belizaire said he soon saw the officer “wasn’t moving at all,” and helped first responders lift the stretcher that Olivieri was put on so it could be moved over the highway divider.
The witness testified that he heard Ryan — the son of a now retired Port Authority police official — “yelling and screaming” after the collision that “his father’s a cop.”
During his cross-exam, Belizaire denied that he had a driver’s license that was suspended at the time of the fatal crash.
Gann, the defense attorney, questioned him about whether he was the Francis J. Belizaire who got a different driver’s license years ago, using the witness’ address at the time and a similar date of birth, while the witness’ original driver’s license had been suspended in 1988 for driving without insurance.
The witness said he had family living with him at that time “and some of my IDs were missing,” Belizaire said.
The witness also acknowledged that he’d testified Monday that he’d been driving between 60 and 70 mph on the LIE before approaching the crash scene, but had said under oath previously that he’d been going 55 mph.
Belizaire’s cross-exam will continue Tuesday.