Joseph Beer pleads guilty to aggravated vehicular homicide in Southern State quadruple fatal

Joseph Beer, at the Nassau County Courthouse, pleaded Joseph Beer, at the Nassau County Courthouse, pleaded guilty to his indictment's top count of aggravated vehicular homicide and misdemeanor operating a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs on Tuesday, July 29, 2014 in Mineola. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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The sole survivor of a 2012 Southern State Parkway wreck that killed four teenagers admitted Tuesday he was impaired by marijuana when he got behind the wheel.

Joseph Beer, 19, of South Richmond Hill, Queens, pleaded guilty to a charge of aggravated vehicular homicide in Nassau County Court.

The plea deal included the prosecution's agreement on a prison sentence of 5 to 15 years and came after a jury found Beer guilty of manslaughter charges in June.

Jurors had deadlocked on other charges related to whether Beer was drug-impaired during the early morning Lakeview crash on Oct. 8, 2012.

Prosecutors could have retried him on those counts, but the feelings of the victims' families figured into that decision, said Maureen McCormick, chief of the Nassau district attorney's Vehicular Crimes Bureau.

"They are grateful not to have to undergo a second trial," she said Tuesday.

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McCormick said prosecutors were "confident the evidence always showed" Beer was impaired at the time of the crash.

Defense attorney Todd Greenberg called Beer's plea "an acceptance of responsibility," saying it was time to "let the families heal."

"Joseph is showing his remorse by accepting these charges," the Forest Hills lawyer said.

The defense argued at trial that while Beer admitted to smoking marijuana before driving, the level of the drug's active ingredient in the blood of a frequent pot smoker like Beer isn't a good measure of whether that person is impaired.

Prosecutors had alleged Beer's reckless mixture of "speed and weed" led him to lose control of the Subaru Impreza he was driving without a license.

The crash split the car in two and killed Neal Rajapa, 17, along with Peter Kanhai, Christopher Khan and Darian Ramnarine, who were 18. All had been childhood friends of Beer's from Queens.

Kanhai's mother, Kumaree Kanhai, declined to comment while leaving the Mineola court Tuesday.

Beer's plea also included an admission to a misdemeanor charge of operating a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs.

He already had been facing up to 5 to 15 years in prison after his June conviction, but he would have faced up to 25 years in prison if found guilty of the top charge of aggravated vehicular homicide after a new trial.

Beer didn't answer reporters' questions as court officers led him away after Judge David Sullivan accepted his plea.

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Greenberg said he'll ask the judge to sentence Beer as a youthful offender, which would limit his incarceration to a maximum of 4 years.

He said he'll also appeal the manslaughter conviction. The judge said if that appeal was successful, Beer's aggravated vehicular homicide plea would be thrown out and he'd get a new trial.

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