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Lawyer Raj Jadeja pleads not guilty to DWI in fatal crash

Raj Jadeja, seen leaving court in Mineola on

Raj Jadeja, seen leaving court in Mineola on Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, pleaded not guilty to 12 counts, including aggravated vehicular homicide and drug and alcohol charges, in connection with the death of a mechanic in an accident Sept. 19, 2015, on the Long Island Expressway. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A Hempstead lawyer who prosecutors said was drunk and impaired by drugs pleaded not guilty Wednesday to homicide charges in the death of a mechanic last year on the Long Island Expressway.

Raj Jadeja, who lives in Brooklyn, hit George Ragotte’s 1992 BMW sedan from behind with his 2012 BMW sedan after Ragotte, 21, of Lake Ronkonkoma, slowed to avoid two vehicles involved in a collision on the LIE in Plainview on Sept. 19, police said.

Ragotte’s driver’s side rear bumper was pushed into the back of the driver’s seat, prosecutors said. Ragotte, who had to be extricated from his car, was taken to Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, where he was pronounced dead.

In December, a grand jury indicted Jadeja on 12 counts, including aggravated vehicular homicide, two counts of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol and one count of operating a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs, which prosecutors said was Xanax.

Other charges include two counts of second-degree assault; and one count each of second-degree vehicular manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter and second-degree vehicular assault.

Jadeja faces 8 1⁄3 to 25 years if convicted of aggravated vehicular homicide.

His attorney, Steven B. Epstein of Barket Marion Epstein & Kearon in Garden City and Manhattan, entered the plea before acting Supreme Court Justice Teresa K. Corrigan in a Mineola courtroom.

“The accident that resulted in the fatality was not caused by Mr. Jadeja, but by the reckless conduct of other drivers,” Epstein said after the court hearing.

Jadeja, 35, remained free on a $275,000 cash bail. His next court appearance is March 23.

After striking Ragotte’s car, Jadeja severely injured another driver, Paul Castiglione, who was standing outside his vehicle after he had collided with another vehicle in the initial crash near the entrance ramp from Exit 46, Sunnyside Boulevard.

Prosecutors have said Jadeja had a preliminary blood-alcohol level of 0.12. A motorist with a blood-alcohol-level of .08 is considered to be driving while intoxicated under the law.

Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, in a statement, said Ragotte “was killed in this terribly violent and completely preventable crash.”

Ragotte, a 2012 graduate of Sachem North High School, worked as a diesel automotive mechanic. He was on his way home from his girlfriend’s house in Levittown when he was struck around 2:13 a.m., his family said.

He raced BMX bicycles and cars and wanted to be a professional race car driver, his family said.

More than a dozen friends and family wore T-shirts Wednesday in the courtroom in his memory, including some that said #seemeonthebackroads — one of Ragotte’s favorite sayings.

“He was on his way to big things in his life,” said his mother, Joan Bottega, 51, of Lake Ronkonkoma.

Ragotte’s girlfriend, Angela Cassano, 28, said the two always talked about getting married. She recalled finding some of his clothes and his toothbrush at her home. “That’s all that I have left of him now because of this man,” she said.

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