Authorities to weigh charges for driver in fatal crash

Left, Joseph Beer, the driver in an accident Left, Joseph Beer, the driver in an accident on the Southern State Parkway on Oct. 8, 2012 that killed four people. Right, the car after the accident. Photo Credit: Handout, Howard Schnapp

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Toxicology tests and crash reconstruction reports will determine whether a teenage driver with a learner permit will face charges in an early-morning Southern State Parkway wreck that killed four of his friends, authorities said Tuesday.

Joseph Beer, 17, of Richmond Hill, Queens, was driving a 2012 Subaru Impreza early Monday morning when he lost control and slammed into trees after leaving the parkway, police said. He remained hospitalized at Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola Tuesday for treatment, officials said.

Beer's passengers -- Darian Ramnarine, 18, Christopher Khan, 18, Peter Kanhai, 18, and Neal Rajapa, who would have turned 18 next Wednesday -- were pronounced dead at the scene, officials said. All were residents of Queens neighborhoods and knew each other from Richmond Hill High School, friends and relatives said Tuesday.

The tests will likely take weeks to complete. They will include a crash reconstruction and lab tests, said State Police senior investigator Steven Louder.

Once the results are in, police investigators and prosecutors will decide whether to file charges against Beer, Louder said.

"He was not supposed to be out there at the time," said Louder, noting the teen's restricted driving privileges. "He should not have been driving that car by law."

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Louder would not say why the lab tests were being conducted.

John Byrne, a spokesman for Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice, said his office is awaiting toxicology results on Beer. Law enforcement sources would not say whether alcohol or drugs played a role in the crash.

Members of the Lakeview Fire Department were among the first responders on the scene.

"The only smell that we had, that we could detect was the fuel smell coming out of the vehicle," said Lakeview Fire Chief Heather Senti. "I did not smell any type of narcotic coming out of the vehicle."

Byrne said investigators have contacted Subaru officials to help them pull data from the severely damaged vehicle that could give insight into its speed at the time of the crash.

During a brief hospital interview Monday, Louder said Beer told investigators that he lost control of the car. Louder said more interviews with Beer will take place as his condition, which was not available Tuesday night, improves.

No witnesses had come forward as of Tuesday. The crash occurred about 3:40 a.m. on a rain-slicked westbound stretch of the Southern State Parkway, Louder said.

"It was very slippery at the time that their accident happened. The road was wet. It was understandable for an inexperienced driver," he said. "We can't quote on any speeds, but as evidenced by the damage, you can probably assume that it wasn't 55."

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The car split in two after it failed to negotiate a curve and slammed into trees between Exit 18, Eagle Avenue, and Exit 17, Hempstead Avenue in Lakeview, State Police said.

The five teens were ejected from the vehicle.

A witness to the crash aftermath described seeing Beer in the dimly lit wooded area searching the crumpled Subaru wreckage by the light of his cellphone, said State Police spokesman Frank Bandiero.

In Beer's Richmond Hill neighborhood Tuesday, friends and neighbors described him as an intelligent student who aimed to get a college degree.

"His dream was to become a rocket scientist," said Ryan Harry, 19, who said he had known Beer since eighth grade. "He's a good kid. He's smart."

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With Ann Givens

and John Valenti

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