Witness: Joseph Beer admitted to driving fast in crash that killed four
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Joseph Beer told a relative of one of four teenage friends who died when he wrecked a car that he knew he shouldn't drive so fast, a witness at his trial said Thursday.
"I said, 'You know, Joseph, you have to slow down. You were flying in that car [the night of the crash],' " testified Bryant Barr, who identified himself as the "common-law" stepfather of victim Peter Kanhai. "He said, 'I know, I know.' "
Beer, 19, of South Richmond Hill, Queens, faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted of aggravated vehicular homicide at his trial in Mineola.
Barr, 38, also said Beer told him at a gathering of family and friends soon after the crash that he was very sorry and that something had gone wrong with the car. "He said the back of the car came toward the front," Barr said, adding that Beer got evasive when asked where the teens had been before the crash.
The testimony came on a day when jurors also heard a state trooper's description of the crash scene while viewing photos of the aftermath that left some of Kanhai's family in tears.
The victim's grandmother, Shirley Kanhai, 63, of Queens, left the courtroom crying as Assistant District Attorney Michael Bushwack displayed a series of images that made Beer lower his head and put his hands to his face.
The defendant was 17 in October 2012 when prosecutors said he crashed his car in Lakeview while speeding on the Southern State Parkway. He was high on marijuana and driving without a license, authorities said.
The wreck split the Subaru Impreza in two and killed 17-year-old Neal Rajapa, along with Kanhai, Christopher Khan and Darian Ramnarine, who were 18. All were childhood friends of Beer's from Queens.
Defense attorney Todd Greenberg has called the crash a tragedy that involved negligence, not criminality. He said his client smoked marijuana before the wreck, but it didn't impair his driving.
Trooper Eduardo Arias testified Thursday that he saw Beer come out of the woods soon after arriving at the crash scene and asked him if he was the driver. "I'm seeing four dead bodies, and I didn't think there were going to be any survivors of this accident," he said.
Arias said Beer told him he'd been driving and asked about his friends before he got into an ambulance. "He said 'Are my friends OK?' He kept repeating that question," Arias said.
The trooper testified that he smelled a strong odor of marijuana coming from Beer, and the teen told him he'd smoked pot "a couple hours ago."
Some jurors jotted notes when Arias later agreed with Greenberg that he previously had changed his sworn testimony about where he found the defendant's cellphone at the scene.
Nassau County Judge David Sullivan ruled Wednesday that he would allow texts from Beer's phone as evidence, saying he believed Arias' testimony that he was mistaken at first when he said he found the device on the ground instead of on the driver's seat.
The defense claimed police illegally seized the device and sought to block prosecutors' efforts to introduce Beer's texts before the day of the crash that talked separately about speeding and smoking marijuana in a car.
The families of both Beer and Kanhai, who sat one row apart during much of the day's testimony, declined to comment after court. Testimony resumes Monday.