Matthew Whyte, 28, of Laurelton, pleaded not guilty at an arraignment for his role in a deadly November 2022 high-speed crash.  Credit: Howard Schnapp

A Queens man was high on marijuana and driving 93 mph, weaving in and out of traffic while racing another driver on the Southern State Parkway last year when he crashed into a sedan, killing the driver and her two passengers, Nassau County prosecutors said Thursday.

Matthew Whyte, 28, of Laurelton, pleaded not guilty at an arraignment in County Court in Mineola for his role in the November 2022 high-speed crash that killed Ciara Hare, the 18-year-old driver, along with passengers Florence Oprisan, 18, and Jean Marc Miller, 22.

Hare, a Nassau Community College student from Lindenhurst, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Oprisan, also of Lindenhurst, and Miller, of West Babylon, each died six days later only 13 minutes apart at Nassau University Medical Center, officials said.

Whyte, an electrician in Queens, was charged with aggravated vehicular homicide, first-degree vehicular manslaughter, three counts each of second-degree manslaughter and second-degree assault, second-degree reckless endangerment, reckless driving and driving while ability impaired by drugs. 

“We will prosecute him and he will be punished,” Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly said during a news conference after the arraignment. “But whatever the punishment, at the end of the day it's not going to bring back Ciara, Florence and Jean. And that's truly the tragedy in this case.”

Victor Knapp, Whyte's Queens-based defense attorney, said his client lives with his parents and sister and suffers from sickle cell anemia.

“He's not a flight risk,” Knapp said, arguing for reduced or no bail. “He has no place else to go.”

Nonetheless, Judge Christopher Quinn set bail at $150,000 cash or $300,000 bond and suspended Whyte's driver's license.

If convicted, Whyte, who surrendered to state police Thursday morning, faces up to 25 years in prison.

Richard and Deysi Hare, parents of Ciara Hare, attend Matthew Whyte's...

Richard and Deysi Hare, parents of Ciara Hare, attend Matthew Whyte's arraignment in Nassau County Court in Mineola on Thursday. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Richard Hare, Ciara's father, arrived in court wearing a T-shirt with images of his daughter.

“I miss my daughter. She was my whole world,” Hare said outside court, holding back tears. “We're gonna miss going to church on Sundays and then going out to breakfast. Just her being there. Such a beautiful girl. She was involved with the church with the choir. She did so many good things. She helped others. She was in college, and she was looking forward to her future.”

Judith Miller, Jean Marc's mother, described her son as kind and loving.

“He had his whole life ahead of him,” Miller told reporters. “He did not deserve to die the way he did. … Every time you step into your car and you take a drink or you take a smoke or any other kind of drug, you destroy somebody's life.”

On Nov. 5, 2022, shortly before 9 p.m., Whyte was driving his 2018 Subaru WRX just west of Exit 32 (Route 110/Broadway) on the Southern State, weaving in and out of traffic while racing a still-unidentified driver, when he clipped Hare's 2004 Honda Civic, prosecutors said.

The crash forced Hare's vehicle off the parkway where it struck a traffic light camera pole on the right shoulder, authorities said. Whyte's vehicle also left the roadway, overturning and landing in the wooded shoulder a short distance away, prosecutors said.

The driver of the third vehicle, who officials said was speeding and driving recklessly, did not crash and drove away from the scene.

Whyte suffered non-life-threatening injuries and was taken to Good Samaritan Hospital.

Hare suffered extensive injuries and was trapped in the driver’s seat of her vehicle. She was pronounced dead at 9:20 p.m., prosecutors said.

Miller and Oprisan, who were each ejected from the vehicle, survived for six days, family members said, before hospital officials encouraged them to end life support.

A black box data recorder in Whyte's vehicle showed he was driving 93 mphfive seconds before the crash, Donnelly said. 

Blood taken from Whyte four hours after the crash showed the presence of marijuana in his system, prosecutors said.

Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly at the Nassau County...

Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly at the Nassau County Couthouse in Mineola. Credit: Johnny Milano

There is no video surveillance of the third driver, Donnelly said, although several good Samaritans who stopped at the crash scene told state police that Whyte was racing another vehicle. The investigation into the identity of that driver is continuing, she said.

“It was a long investigation,” Donnelly said, when asked why it took 13 months to make an arrest. “We had a lot of witnesses that needed to be spoken to. The black boxes had to be downloaded. We were trying to see if there was surveillance video leading up to it. So it's just one of those investigations that took some time.”

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