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Long IslandCrime

West Islip man pleads guilty in crash that seriously injured trooper, DA's office say

Jesse Cohen of West Islip

Jesse Cohen of West Islip "sent and received dozens of text messages" in the 20 minutes leading up to his vehicle striking Trooper Joseph Gallagher in Commack in 2017, prosecutors said. Credit: Westchester DA/News12

A distracted driver who grievously injured a state trooper aiding a stranded motorist on a Sagtikos Parkway overpass in 2017 has pleaded guilty and is expected to serve 30 days in jail, prosecutors said.

Jesse Cohen, 24, of West Islip, pleaded guilty to third-degree assault, a misdemeanor, in Suffolk County Court in Riverhead on Wednesday, according to the Westchester County district attorney's office. 

Under his plea agreement, Cohen, who was remanded to the Suffolk County Jail, also will spend three years on probation and must fulfill 1,000 hours of community service, prosecutors said.

Trooper Joseph Gallagher lost the ability to walk, talk or eat without help after Cohen's vehicle slammed into him at about 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 18, 2017, according to prosecutors.

Cohen “sent and received dozens of text messages in a number of separate conversations in the 20 minutes leading up" to his striking Gallagher, prosecutors said.

Severely disabled, the state trooper — who was 35 when struck and a father of young children — lives at a center for patients with traumatic brain injuries, they said.

The officer, who served in the Coast Guard before becoming a state trooper in 2014, had parked his patrol car — with its lights flashing — behind a stopped car on the day of the collision. He closed one of the two lanes on the overpass connecting the Sagtikos Parkway with the Long Island Expressway in Commack, prosecutors said.

And Gallagher, a native of the Buffalo suburb of West Seneca who had worked on Long Island for nearly a year, had placed flares around the stopped car, officials added.

Other cars had successfully driven around Gallagher in the right lane, but Cohen, "who was distracted by texting conversations, failed to perceive the uniformed trooper and drove his car directly into him," prosecutors said.

In a statement, Cohen's lawyer, Anthony La Pinta of Hauppauge, said his client wants to remind others about the importance of paying attention while behind the wheel.

“First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with Trooper Gallagher and his family,” La Pinta said. "Jesse is a fine young man who has taken full responsibility for this accident and has vowed to undertake a crusade to teach young drivers and adults about the dire consequences of distracted driving.”

Westchester County District Attorney Anthony A. Scarpino Jr. in a statement said: “The trooper's life will never be the same."

He added: "If anything can come of this tragedy, it's reinforcing for everyone 'Don't text and drive.' "

The Westchester County district attorney's office was named special prosecutor in the case. Suffolk District Attorney Timothy D. Sini's office has recused itself due to an unspecified conflict of interest.

Cohen’s sentencing was set for Oct. 9.

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