Manslaughter acquittal in LI parkway crash that killed off-duty cop

Jonathan Lopez hugs his mom Adriana Arbelaez after

Jonathan Lopez hugs his mom Adriana Arbelaez after he was acquitted of manslaughter in a 2011 parkway racing case that left an off-duty police officer dead at the Nassau County Courthuse in Mineola. (Nov 15, 2013) (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

Fresh from a manslaughter acquittal, Jonathan Lopez emerged from a Nassau County courtroom Friday and apologized for his role in a deadly 2011 parkway race that he said involved "bad choices."

"I would like to apologize to everyone that was involved in this whole ordeal," Lopez, 22, of East Meadow, said of the Southern State Parkway crash that killed off-duty NYPD Officer Kevin Jessup of Massapequa.

"I think it was a big mishap," Lopez said, "and bad choices made on both sides."


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Authorities said the 25-year-old officer was driving drunk at the time of the Sept. 11, 2011, collision. Lopez and Jessup raced each other at speeds topping 100 mph before the early morning wreck on the border of the towns of Oyster Bay and Babylon, according to prosecutors.

Of Jessup, Lopez said Friday: "Just let his soul rest in peace and hopefully everyone can just move on from this."

The crash also injured FBI Special Agent Dawn Smallwood, head of counterterrorism for the bureau's Long Island office, as she drove to work on the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center attack.

The jury convicted Lopez on misdemeanor charges of assault, reckless endangerment and reckless driving, for which Nassau County Judge Tammy Robbins could sentence him in January to up to a year in jail.

Lopez, who faced up to 15 years in prison if convicted of second-degree manslaughter, called the acquittal "a big monkey off my back to say the least."

Defense attorney Bruce Barket said he will consider appealing the other convictions and noted that his client is now looking ahead to college instead of a prison cell.

Jury deliberations lasted about 11 hours, and the panel made repeated requests for the judge to read the manslaughter charge to them as they worked.

Three jurors who spoke to Newsday, but didn't want their names used for privacy reasons, said Jessup's intoxication, speeding and failure to wear a seat belt weighed heavily in the jury's decision to acquit Lopez of the most serious charge. They also said a state trooper's testimony seemed unreliable.

Authorities said Lopez lost control of his Nissan 350Z before hitting Jessup's Nissan Maxima and sending it into a ditch. They said Lopez's car then rear-ended Smallwood's Chevrolet Impala, which overturned.

Supervising Assistant District Attorney Brendan Ahern told jurors that authorities would have criminally charged Jessup if he'd lived, saying it took two drivers to race.

The defense told the jury there was no proof Lopez raced for thrills, despite a T-shirt bearing the words "Eat, Sleep, Race" that police found near the wreckage of Lopez's car.

Jessup's family left the courtroom quickly, declining to comment.

Shams Tarek, a spokesman for District Attorney Kathleen Rice, said later in a statement that "street racing endangers everyone on the road, and its seriousness is reflected in the jury's guilty verdicts."

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