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Motorist who dragged state trooper on Southern State Parkway surrenders to go to prison

State Police investigate an accident that seriously injured

State Police investigate an accident that seriously injured state Trooper Jean Dhaiti on the Southern State Parkway in Lakeview on Feb. 15, 2017. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A former state trooper said there was "some justice" Tuesday as a motorist who assaulted him during a 2017 traffic stop on the Southern State Parkway — leaving him with injuries that ended his career — surrendered to go to prison.

A jury last year found driver Kyheem Kelly, 31, of Queens, guilty of second-degree assault, reckless driving and offenses that included using a cellphone while driving in connection with the February 2017 parkway encounter in Lakeview.

Former Trooper Jean Dhaiti had testified at the Nassau County Court trial that he felt Kelly dragging him across the parkway in his Honda Accord when the encounter escalated after Dhaiti pulled Kelly over for suspected cellphone use.

The jury didn’t reach a verdict on all the charges against Kelly, and he settled the case in April by pleading guilty to attempted first-degree assault in a deal that included a 4-year prison sentence.

“There’s some justice here,” Dhaiti, 46, said in an interview Tuesday after Kelly’s sentencing, while surrounded by more than a dozen of his former colleagues.

The ex-trooper and U.S. Army veteran said he still was recovering, but also looking forward to moving on with his life after suffering brain trauma that left him unable to return to his 19-year career in law enforcement.

“If you get pulled over, just accept what it is,” Dhaiti said of the message the case should send to other drivers. “I had no intentions of even arresting this guy. I was just going to impound his car and then things just got out of hand. It shouldn’t have even gotten that far. For somebody that’s never been in trouble, it’s crazy that he would even do something like that. It just made no sense. None of it was worth it.”

Kelly’s attorney, Matt Tuohy, said during the sentencing that his client had never been in trouble with the law before and “realizes that he made a very bad decision.”

The defense lawyer said Kelly — a father who had the same food-carting airport job for about a decade — knew the time he’d spend behind bars “doesn’t measure up” to the former trooper’s suffering. But Kelly hoped Dhaiti would recover and find some peace, Tuohy added.

Prosecutor Alexander DePalo told Nassau Supervising Judge Teresa Corrigan that Dhaiti was “a shell of his former self” and still suffered from debilitating headaches, vertigo and mood swings.

Prosecutors said during the trial that Kelly dragged Dhaiti across three lanes of eastbound traffic near Exit 19 on Feb. 15, 2017, after Kelly tried to flee the car stop.

Tuohy had argued that an inadvertent accident took place after Kelly tried to talk Dhaiti out of impounding his Honda while he was on a date with his female passenger.

The defense tried to portray a chaotic scene in which the trooper lost his temper and went into the car to grab Kelly or his keys before either Kelly’s foot came off the brake with the trooper on top of him, or one of them hit the gas by mistake.

Dhaiti had testified he began struggling with Kelly after he opened the door to take the keys after Kelly refused to hand them over, despite not having a valid car registration or insurance.

Dhaiti told jurors that at that point, he tried to pull Kelly out of the car and arrest him. But then he felt the Honda moving and “like I’m being dragged,” Dhaiti testified.

The former trooper also said from the witness stand that he tried to get his lower body into the car, which crashed into the center median, with him hitting his head during the “ongoing struggle” with Kelly.

Bystanders helped to capture Kelly after Dhaiti grabbed him  as he tried to escape, the former trooper also had testified.

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