A school bus driver died and four autistic children on the way home from summer camp and their bus attendant were hurt because of cement mixer driver Raymond Ragen's crimes, a prosecutor said as the defendant's trial started Wednesday.
But jurors also heard another version of what happened in the July 2012 crash in Locust Valley, in which authorities said Ragen's truck hit a railroad overpass before barreling head-on into the bus.
"Not every accident is the result of criminal conduct," defense attorney David Besso told jurors in Nassau County Court in Mineola.
Authorities claim Ragen, 45, of Mineola, was high on Valium and talking on his cellphone when he drove into an Oyster Bay Road overpass he knew was too low for his truck before plowing into the bus.
Ragen has pleaded not guilty to charges including aggravated vehicular homicide. Authorities said he could spend up to 25 years in prison if jurors convict him of that top charge.
Bus driver Jorge Guevara, a 45-year-old father of four, was driving the special-needs students, who ranged in age from 6 to 9, home when he died.
"He is the reason that so many lives were changed that day. He is the reason that Jorge Guevara lost his life," Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Dellinger said of Ragen.
She told jurors Ragen never slowed down or veered away before hitting an LIRR overpass that GPS showed he'd already backed away from earlier that day when his truck didn't fit under it.
Dellinger said bus attendant Louis Kragouras, then 64, needed surgery to implant metal parts in a hip and a knee after the crash and now walks with a cane.
One student suffered a broken jaw and cuts, including a detached lip, while the other three had mostly minor injuries, the prosecutor said.
Dellinger also said there were differences in Ragen's accounts of the accident that he gave police at the scene and later at a hospital.
But Ragen's lawyer said it took police months to arrest his client.
He told jurors that two police officials who spoke to Ragen after the crash would testify that the cement mixer driver wasn't impaired that day.
Besso said another witness would testify that the amount of Valium in Ragen's blood was not even a minuscule amount.
He also said records would show the defendant was driving slowly at the time of the crash in an area where trees blocked the bridge, and the road has a significant slope.
Jurors will begin hearing witness testimony Thursday.