The motorist who hit and fatally injured a Nassau police officer said Tuesday after testifying in a case in which he wasn’t criminally charged that he feels partly responsible for the highway patrolman’s death.
“I blame myself somewhat but Mr. Ryan shouldn’t have did what he did,” Francis Belizaire, 50, of Bay Shore, told Newsday after leaving a Mineola courtroom.
Belizaire’s comments came after he finished testifying at the trial of James Ryan, 28, of Oakdale. Ryan faces charges in Officer Joseph Olivieri Jr.’s death that include aggravated vehicular homicide and manslaughter.
Nassau prosecutors contend Ryan’s reckless actions in the early morning of Oct. 18, 2012, on the Long Island Expressway near Exit 35 in North Hills caused the veteran officer’s death.
Prosecutors have alleged Ryan’s drunken driving led to two crashes that drew the officer to the scene, where Belizaire’s Cadillac Escalade then fatally struck the officer as he stood by Ryan’s wrecked Toyota Camry in the HOV lane.
The district attorney’s office decided Belizaire’s actions weren’t criminal and he got immunity from the prosecution after testifying before the grand jury that indicted Ryan.
However, the defense has argued that the blame for Olivieri’s death rests solely with Belizaire.
When asked whether Ryan deserved to be convicted of aggravated vehicular homicide, Belizaire said during a brief exclusive interview: “I don’t know, he’s a young man, you know? We all make mistakes.”
But Belizaire, who said he felt drained from testifying, then denied he had made any mistakes that October morning.
When pressed, he added: “The vehicle should have never been there. That’s all I have to say.”
Belizaire had testified that his Escalade hit Olivieri after he didn’t see the officer standing in the road until the last second. He said he had slowed his Cadillac from 60 to 70 mph to 30 to 40 mph as he approached the accident scene.
The witness told jurors that strobe lights from police cars impeded his vision, and he was “blinded” by headlights from another car — a Honda Civic that had ended up facing the wrong direction after one of the earlier crashes involving Ryan’s Camry.
Belizaire, a flagman for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and married father of two, said he thought the traffic problems were all to his right on the LIE and he didn’t see anything blocking his SUV’s path in the HOV lane at first.
But he also testified that he then saw Olivieri standing in the road by Ryan’s car, which was facing into the median without its lights on, when he was about two car lengths away. Belizaire said he braked and swerved but it was too late to take enough evasive action and he drove into the officer.
During a cross-examination Monday, Belizaire denied that he had a driver’s license that was suspended at the time of the fatal crash.
Belizaire denied that he got a second driver’s license using the same first name, last name and address, but with the middle initial of “J” and a slightly different birth date, when his first license was suspended in the late 1980s for driving without insurance.
Belizaire also told defense attorney Marc Gann yesterday that he had a misdemeanor conviction on his record in 2009 for leaving an accident scene. But the witness called the conviction “a misunderstanding” and said it’s no longer on his record.
Belizaire also acknowledged he had previously testified under oath he’d been going 55 mph before approaching the area and slowing to 25 to 30 mph, but changed his testimony about driving speeds later.
“I can’t remember all the details of the incident,” Belizaire said at one point.
At another point, Belizaire told prosecutor Maureen McCormick that what he felt after hitting Olivieri was “the worst feeling anybody could have.”
Separately yesterday, Nassau Police Officer Jeff Fabre testified about responding to what he thought would be a routine accident and then seeing a longtime colleague lifeless on the ground.
Fabre also said Belizaire was “remorseful at the scene,” and told him he’d been trying to get home from work. The officer said Belizaire wasn’t intoxicated, but “it was obvious” Ryan was.