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Cement-truck driver pleads not guilty in bus driver's death

Raymond Ragen, left, 44, of Mineola, faces arraignment

Raymond Ragen, left, 44, of Mineola, faces arraignment Wednesday in First District Court in Hempstead in the July 23, 2012, crash, pictured right, that killed mini-school-bus driver Jorge Guevara, 45. (Jan. 22, 2013) Credit: NCPD; Howard Schnapp

A trucker arrested on vehicular homicide charges was high on a prescription drug and using a cellphone when his cement mixer plowed into a school bus last summer in Locust Valley, killing the driver, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Raymond Ragen, 44, of 35 Washington Ave., Mineola, was under the influence of Valium, and talking on his cellphone in the moments before the July 23 head-on collision, prosecutors said at his arraignment in Nassau County Court in Mineola.

Ragen did not have a prescription for the Valium when the mixer crashed into a Long Island Rail Road bridge underpass and then crushed the minibus, prosecutors said. He was also driving without a valid license.

The vehicle was carrying four children and a bus attendant who all were injured.

The crash killed bus driver Jorge Guevara, 45, of Locust Valley, a father of four.

"I just want justice," Guevara's crying wife, Claudia Guevara, said after the hearing. "It's so hard without my husband. He was a wonderful guy. I miss him every single day. It's not fair that he was taken from us."

The attendant, Louis Kragouras, 64, of Bethpage, was walking with the use of a cane and grimacing from his injuries as he entered the courtroom Wednesday.

"I'm not feeling good," he said. "I'm in pain every day. It's hard. . . . I have broken bones all through my body."

Judge Tammy Robbins ordered Ragen held in Nassau County Jail on $750,000 cash bail. He faces up to 25 years in prison.

Along with vehicular homicide and multiple counts of manslaughter and vehicular assault, Ragen also faces two counts of seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, second-degree reckless endangerment, driving while ability impaired by drugs in a commercial vehicle, reckless driving, third-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle and using a mobile phone while driving.

Prosecutors said Ragen has an arrest record dating to 1991 that includes drug possessions, assault on a law enforcement officer and operation of a motor vehicle while impaired.

"The nexus for just about all the crimes has been the use of drugs," said Nassau County Assistant District Attorney Brendan Ahern.

Ahern told the court that toxicology tests found the Valium in his system.

Ragen's attorney, David Besso of Bay Shore, said his client, a graduate of Massapequa High School, was hardworking and devastated by the crash.

"I believe this was an accident and nothing more than that," Besso said. "Mr. Ragen was not using any illegal drugs at the time this incident occurred."

Although he was also injured in the crash, Ragen was able to help the injured children off the bus, Besso said.

Officials with the Nicolia Ready Mix cement company could not be reached for comment yesterday.

In July, shortly after the crash, company president Antonio L. Nicolia said his driver "took a wrong turn on the wrong road."

Nicolia said at the time that Ragen, whom he did not identify and referred to only as "the driver," had a clean driving record during the four years he had worked for his company.

Ragen had passed all random drug and alcohol tests during that time, Nicolia said.

High bail was set because Ragen has six prior warrant violations on his record for failure to appear in court, prosecutors said. His next court appearance was set for Feb. 20.

The crash occurred at about 3:15 p.m. Police said Ragen was heading eastbound on Oyster Bay Road and struck the LIRR overpass near Matinecock Court.

The impact sent the mixer out of control and it struck the westbound school bus. Guevara was driving the children home from a day camp in Oyster Bay.

Nicolia said Ragen had delivered concrete mix to a job site and was headed back to his company's work yard in Westbury.

The mixer, which was about 13 feet tall, couldn't clear the overpass, which police said had a clearance of 10 feet, 1 inch.

The impact knocked the cab section of the cement mixer more than halfway through the mini bus and crumpled the driver's side.

With Chau Lam

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