A driver who fled police in a stolen car before causing a Middle Island crash that killed three people pleaded guilty to manslaughter and felony assault on Thursday, Suffolk prosecutors said.
Nahriek Belford, now 19, also admitted to a felony charge of unlawfully fleeing police, according to District Attorney Timothy Sini's office.
Court officials said acting State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho plans to sentence the Bellport man to eight years in prison on March 25.
Authorities have said a police officer tried to pull over Belford, a reputed Bloods gang member, on the night of Feb. 9, 2019, after seeing the stolen Nissan Rogue he was driving go through a stop sign in Yaphank.
But prosecutors said the then-17-year-old motorist sped away, going through red lights, crossing into oncoming traffic and reaching 106 mph before the deadly wreck four minutes later on Route 25.
At about 11:50 p.m., the Nissan hit a Honda CRV whose driver was trying to turn left onto Birchwood Park Drive. Authorities said the impact split the Honda in half and killed its occupants, Jerome Weingarten, 74, and his wife, Randee Weingarten, 71, both of Middle Island.
Law enforcement officials said the crash also killed Belford’s brother, Angelo Belford, 19, and seriously injured a 16-year-old male — both of whom were passengers in the Nissan.
Court records show the defendant, who remains jailed, initially pleaded not guilty in March 2019 after an indictment charged him with offenses that included manslaughter, felony assault, unlawfully fleeing police, criminal possession of stolen property, reckless endangerment and reckless driving.
The Weingartens had been married 50 years and were the parents of three and grandparents of six, their son Jason Weingarten previously told Newsday. His mother was a retired bookkeeper who liked to play mahjong, and his father did tax preparation work and was a fan of the New York Rangers and Jets, he said.
Police said after the crash that the Nissan had been reported stolen two days earlier from East Patchogue and its license plates had been stolen from another vehicle. They also said the veteran officer involved in the encounter with the Nissan had followed the vehicle while radioing for backup.
Suffolk Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart said in the aftermath that the department had launched an internal investigation to see if the officer observed department protocols while following the Nissan for less than five miles before the crash. A police spokeswoman said Thursday that the department wouldn't be able to provide an update on the status of that probe "due to the ongoing criminal case."
Defense attorney Lani Houston of Suffolk’s Legal Aid Society said at the time of Belford’s initial arraignment that he denied being a gang member and that a larger investigation into police pursuits needed to be done. She no longer represents Belford, and his new attorney couldn’t be reached Thursday.
Sini previously disagreed with the defense attorney’s call for a larger investigation, saying three people died because of Belford’s actions.
The district attorney said in a statement Thursday that Belford's conviction now "holds him responsible for those deaths" and provides justice for the victims.