Cops: Driver in crash that kills 4 had learner permit

Four people were killed and another injured in a one-car crash early Monday on the Southern State Parkway in Lakeview, State Police said. Videojournalists: Jim Staubitser and Paul Mazza (Oct. 8, 2012)

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The 17-year-old driver of a car in which four teenagers were killed after he lost control on the Southern State Parkway in Lakeview and crashed early Monday held only a learner permit, police said.

Driver Joseph Beer, of Richmond Hill, Queens, survived the 3:40 a.m. crash that killed his four passengers after they were ejected from the 2012 Subaru Impreza when it failed to negotiate a westbound curve on the parkway and slammed into some trees, police said.

Beer was taken to Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, where a spokesman said he was being treated Monday night for unspecified injuries.

Relatives of the four victims identified them as Christopher Khan, Neal Rajapa, Darian Ramnarine and Peter Anthony, all 18 and of Richmond Hill.

The tragedy shook many in the Queens community who knew Beer and the four dead teenage passengers. Many agreed that, more than just friends, they were like part of a large, extended family.

"Their son was like my son, and my son was like their son," Sheron Rajapa said through tears, just after identifying her son Neal at the morgue. "I never stopped him from going because I knew he was in good hands."

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Joyce Jarbandhan, 71, of Richmond Hill, said her grandson, Travis Maharana, was close with the victims. "We're all grieving," she said. "They were the best kids. Very good children. Very good guys. It's so sad at this moment, mourning the loss of these children."

Two carloads of stunned friends traveled to the site of the crash Monday, where just hours before, emergency crews pulled the victims from the crumpled Subaru.

Neither Rajapa nor the mourners said they knew where the teenagers had been or where they were going at the time of the crash.

The accident is being investigated, but police said Beer lost control westbound on the parkway between Exit 18, Eagle Avenue, and Exit 17, Hempstead Avenue. The car left the roadway after crossing two right lanes and then jumped onto the shoulder and kept going, striking several trees, police said.

They said Beer was driving with a learner permit. Those holding a learner permit, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, have restricted privileges and are prohibited from driving without a supervising licensed driver who is 21 years old or older.

Those student drivers are also not allowed to drive between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. in the five boroughs of New York City or in Suffolk or Nassau.

Crews were seen removing the wreckage of the car, which was split into two pieces and had partly wrapped around a tree in a wooded area between the parkway and Taylor Road.

Investigators combed through backpacks with what appeared to be school papers and a spiral notebook. Pages from what appeared to be a standardized test-prep manual were strewn on the road.

A neighbor, Jim Johnson, said the sound of the accident was like "an explosion" -- so loud that it awakened him. The crash scene was visible from his Taylor Road home.

In the past week, nightmares of her own death prompted Rajapa to almost ground her son so they could spend more time together.

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" 'If I die, how are you going to cry? What are you going to do?' " she recalled asking him. "He said, 'Don't worry, Mommy. When that time comes, I'm going to stay home. I'm going to cry.' I didn't know I was going to have to cry for him."

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