Driver stands trial in cop's street racing death

Jonathan Lopez, who was involved in a high Jonathan Lopez, who was involved in a high speed accident that killed off-duty NYPD officer Kevin Jessup, 25, of Massapequa on the Southern State Parkway on Sept. 11, 2011, leaves Nassau County Court in Mineola after opening statements in his trial. (Oct. 30, 2013) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Two drivers, one an off-duty NYPD officer, were racing and using the Southern State Parkway as their "personal playground" when they collided, killing the officer and seriously injuring another motorist who was a top FBI official on Long Island, a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday.

"They were going double the speed limit, triple digits, racing at more than 100 miles an hour," Assistant District Attorney Michael Bushwack said in his opening statement in Nassau County Court in Mineola.

The man accused of being the other racer, Jonathan Lopez, 22, of East Meadow, went on trial Wednesday before Judge Tammy S. Robbins on manslaughter charges in the death of the off-duty officer, Kevin Jessup, 25, on Sept. 11, 2011, on the border of Babylon and Oyster Bay towns.

Jessup, who had been an NYPD officer for three years, had moved three months earlier from Brooklyn to Massapequa to be nearer to his girlfriend, Crystal Simons, 32, of Valley Stream, who was riding in his car and was badly injured in the crash.

Defense Attorney Steven Epstein said in his opening statement that Jessup was drunk, racing and not wearing his seat belt at the time. Jessup had a 0.16 percent blood-alcohol level, twice the legal limit, Epstein said.

"Kevin Jessup set forth the chain of events that ultimately caused his own death," Epstein said.

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State Police said at the time that Lopez took a blood-alcohol breath test that showed a 0.059 percent level, below the legal limit. A spokesman for District Attorney Kathleen Rice said a grand jury declined to bring drunken driving charges.

Another motorist, Donna Panza, 54, of Levittown, who was on the road as the cars neared at 5:30 a.m., testified she got on the parkway at Newbridge Road and was heading east when she glanced in her rearview mirror, "and I could see four headlights coming at me at a very high rate of speed. . . . They just blew by me."

Bushwack told the jury earlier that the car that passed her on the right was the 2004 Nissan 350 GT driven by Lopez and the car on her left was a Nissan Maxima driven by Jessup. After passing her, Lopez's car struck the rear of the Maxima, sending it into a ditch, he said. Lopez's car then hit the rear of a Chevrolet Impala being driven by Dawn Smallwood, the special agent in charge of anti-terrorism in the FBI's Long Island office, he said. Her car flipped over and traveled 157 feet, about half the length of a football field, he said.

Police recovered an unused bumper sticker and sweatshirt with the words: "Eat, sleep, race," Bushwack said. Epstein said prosecutors would not be able to show that those items were recovered from his client's vehicle.

Epstein said prosecutors were looking to blame someone because a police officer was involved. Bushwack told the jury: "If Kevin Jessup had lived, he would be sitting right next to the defendant."

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