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Nassau jury gets racing manslaughter case

Jonathan Lopez, who was involved in a high

Jonathan Lopez, who was involved in a high speed accident that killed off-duty NYPD officer Kevin Jessup, 25, of Massapequa, on the Southern State Parkway on Sept. 11, 2011, leaves Nassau County Court in Mineola after closing statements in his trial. (Nov. 12, 2013) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Jurors have kicked off deliberations in the manslaughter trial of a 22-year-old motorist who prosecutors said was racing an off-duty drunk cop who died when their vehicles collided.

Defendant Jonathan Lopez's behavior "forged a link in the chain of causes" that killed NYPD Officer Kevin Jessup on the Southern State Parkway on Sept. 11, 2011, a Nassau prosecutor said Tuesday.

Supervising Assistant District Attorney Brendan Ahern added in his closing arguments in Nassau County Court in Mineola that the East Meadow man should also bear responsibility for injuries to Dawn Smallwood, the special agent in charge of counterterrorism for the FBI's Long Island office.

Lopez's car, authorities have said, hit the back of Jessup's car, sending it into a ditch, and then hitting the rear of Smallwood's car. Her car overturned in the early-morning crash on the border of the towns of Oyster Bay and Babylon, leaving her with head, neck and back injuries.

Smallwood was "on her way to work on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and she almost gets taken out by this guy," Ahern said of the defendant. "Dawn Smallwood didn't sign up for his race."

The prosecutor said if Jessup had lived, authorities would have criminally charged him too.

But defense lawyer Bruce Barket told jurors Jessup sealed his own fate by driving drunk and speeding on the parkway.

He called a state trooper's investigation and court testimony unreliable, and said the government's case was "literally dripping with doubt."

"He died because of his intoxication, his speed and because he lost control of his car," Barket said of Jessup.

The 25-year-old Massapequa man was a three-year NYPD veteran. His father has said Jessup joined the force because of the 9/11 attacks.

Lopez faces up to 15 years in prison if the jury convicts him of manslaughter.

Jurors also are considering lesser charges of assault, reckless endangerment and reckless driving that prosecutors brought against the former restaurant host.

Ahern told jurors Tuesday that while Jessup shared responsibility for his own death, it took two drivers to race and the law says Lopez should be punished for his actions.

"We must care because there were real people out there that morning in harm's way," the prosecutor said. "It wasn't a video game. It wasn't the set of a Hollywood movie."

Ahern also held up a T-shirt with the words "Eat, Sleep, Race" that police said they found near Lopez's car, along with other car racing-affiliated items.

But the defense questioned how that folded T-shirt appeared in the midst of the debris, suggesting police posed the item before snapping an evidence photo.

Barket said there was no proof Lopez raced for thrills, and he was "sitting in court to pay for the sins of Kevin Jessup."

The jury deliberated for about an hour Tuesday before court closed for the day.

Nassau County Court Judge Tammy Robbins scheduled their deliberations to continue at 2 p.m. Wednesday, giving jurors the morning off so one could attend a relative's funeral.

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