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Queens defendant takes a plea in trooper-dragging case on Southern State parkway

Kyheem Kelly, 31, pleaded guilty in Nassau County Court to attempted first-degree assault - a reduced count of the top charge against him.

State Police investigate an accident involving a state

State Police investigate an accident involving a state trooper with an injury on the eastbound Southern State Parkway on Feb. 15, 2017, in Rockville Centre. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A Queens man took a deal Tuesday for a 4-year prison sentence instead of facing a second trial after his arrest for dragging a state trooper across the Southern State Parkway during a 2017 traffic stop.

Kyheem Kelly, 31, pleaded guilty in Nassau County Court to attempted first-degree assault — a reduced count of the top charge against him.

A jury couldn't reach a verdict on a first-degree assault charge in December during a trial in which they also found him guilty of one second-degree assault charge, reckless driving and other offenses that included using a cellphone while driving.

Prosecutors said at the trial that Kelly dragged State Trooper Jean Dhaiti across three lanes of eastbound traffic near Exit 19 in Lakeview on Feb. 15, 2017, after Kelly tried to flee a car stop sparked by suspected cellphone use.

Jurors also deadlocked on another second-degree assault count, along with other charges dismissed Tuesday as part of the plea bargain.

Dhaiti had testified that he suffered a brain injury and a head wound from the incident, and hadn't been medically cleared to go back to law enforcement duties.

Prosecutor Alexander DePalo told Nassau Supervising Judge Teresa Corrigan on Tuesday that Dhaiti was agreeable to the plea the district attorney's office had offered to Kelly.

Corrigan told the defendant that Acting State Supreme Court Justice Christopher Quinn, who presided in Kelly's trial, wouldn't surpass the 4-year prison deal she agreed to Tuesday when Quinn sentences him separately in connection with the jury's verdict. Both proceedings are expected in June.

Defense attorney Matt Tuohy said after Kelly's plea that his client was remorseful and made "a business decision" to resolve the case, while facing up to 25 years behind bars if convicted at a second trial of the top charge against him.

The Huntington lawyer called the plea bargain "a fair resolution" and said Kelly "felt very bad" that the trooper had sustained permanent injuries.

Kelly has never been in trouble with the law previously, has joint custody of his young son and has had the same food-carting job at Kennedy Airport for about a decade, according to the defense attorney.

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

Tuohy tried to portray a chaotic scene in which the trooper lost his temper and went into the car to try to grab Kelly or his keys before either the motorist's foot came off the brake with Dhaiti on top of him, or one of them mistakenly hit the gas.

Dhaiti testified he began struggling with the motorist after he opened the door to try to take the keys when Kelly refused to surrender them, despite not having a valid car registration or insurance.

The trooper, who testified that 12 years ago he joined the State Police after six years with the NYPD, said he had decided to pull Kelly out of the car and arrest him. But the next thing he knew, the Honda was moving and it felt "like I'm being dragged," the trooper told jurors.

Dhaiti said he tried to get his lower body into the car, which crashed into the center median after crossing oncoming traffic lanes. The trooper said he hit his head, describing an "an ongoing struggle" with Kelly and seeing blood "pouring everywhere" from a cut above his own right eye.

Dhaiti said he was able to grab Kelly as the motorist then tried to escape, with bystanders helping to capture the motorist. Kelly "nearly killed" Dhaiti by "dragging him on the Southern State Parkway during rush hour," Nassau district attorney's office spokeswoman Miriam Sholder said in a statement Tuesday.

She also called the case "a reminder of the risks that our law enforcement professionals are subjected to every day."

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