Joseph Beer convicted of second-degree manslaughter in fatal Southern State Parkway crash

Joseph Beer leaves the Nassau County Courthouse in

Joseph Beer leaves the Nassau County Courthouse in Mineola on Friday, June 6, 2014. A jury convicted Beer of four counts of second-degree manslaughter and reckless driving and reckless endangerment in the 2012 Southern State Parkway crash that left four teens dead after prosecutors said he smoked marijuana before speeding for thrills. (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

A Nassau County jury Friday convicted Joseph Beer of manslaughter but deadlocked on the top charge and other felonies related to whether the teenager was impaired by marijuana when he caused a deadly high-speed crash.

The early-morning wreck off the Southern State Parkway on Oct. 8, 2012, killed four childhood friends of Beer's from Queens.

Beer, 19, of South Richmond Hill, Queens, ignored questions from reporters as he was led away in handcuffs after the judge denied the defense's appeal for bail.

"It would have been great to see a conviction on all charges," said Bryant Barr, the partner of the mother of victim Peter Kanhai, 18, whom he considered his stepson. " . . . Sometimes you don't get the answers that you want to hear."

The crash also killed Neal Rajapa, 17, and Christopher Khan and Darian Ramnarine, who were 18.

Standing with Kanhai's mother, Kumaree Kanhai, Barr said he didn't believe the victims' families would ever find closure.

"Joseph can always see his parents. We can never see Peter," he said outside Nassau County Court in Mineola.

Besides four felony counts of second-degree manslaughter, jurors found Beer guilty of reckless endangerment and reckless driving, both misdemeanors.

District Attorney Kathleen Rice said she hadn't decided whether her office will retry Beer on the deadlocked counts, including a top charge of aggravated vehicular homicide and vehicular manslaughter charges.

Beer, who had faced up to 25 years in prison, is now looking at a maximum sentence of 5 to 15 years.

Prosecutors had alleged that Beer's reckless mix of "speed and weed" led to the wreck that split in two the Subaru Impreza he was driving without a license after he skidded off the parkway in Lakeview.

But the defense argued there was no evidence Beer, then 17, was impaired by marijuana at the time, even though he admitted smoking the drug before driving.

A Yale School of Medicine expert testified that the level of the drug's active ingredient in the blood of a frequent marijuana smoker like Beer isn't a good measure of whether that person is impaired. The defense also claimed dangerous road conditions played a role in the crash.

Beer's attorney, Todd Greenberg, said after the verdict the four who died "were like brothers" to his client.

"He's always acknowledged responsibility. And certainly we're happy that the jury did not find him guilty of those other charges," Greenberg said. "There was simply no evidence . . . that Joseph Beer was impaired by marijuana at the time. So I think the jury saw that."

Rice said prosecutors would oppose any effort by the defense to have Beer sentenced as a youthful offender, which Greenberg said could reduce the maximum prison time to up to 4 years.

"Mr. Beer will be held accountable," Rice said. "We will make sure of that."

The district attorney applauded the jury for its hard work.

"We are gratified by the fact that they clearly agreed with the prosecution's argument in this case that driving in excess of 110 miles an hour was a reckless act," she said. "Regardless of what the verdict is, we still have four young lives that were lost."

The jury deliberated over four days, first saying Wednesday that they were at an "impasse," before Judge David Sullivan told them to keep working.

Jurors declined to comment when leaving court Friday.

A source with knowledge of the case said the panel was deadlocked 11-1 in favor of conviction on the impairment-related charges. Rice declined to give specifics when asked about the jury split.

Outside the courthouse, Beer's father called his son "the property of Nassau County" and said he didn't know whether justice had been served by the partial verdict.

"I don't know what is justice," said Aditia Beer, standing beside his wife, Patricia.

Aditia Beer said the crash was "life-changing" for all the families involved.

"Nothing will ever be good," he said.

The Queens resident also said his son didn't intend to kill his friends. "We're very sad. Those kids were like our kids, too."

Aditia Beer said he wants an opportunity for his son to get grief counseling, which he said he hasn't received in jail.

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