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Jail for driver in fatal that killed city cop

Jonathan Lopez leaves the Nassau County Courthouse on

Jonathan Lopez leaves the Nassau County Courthouse on Friday, March 21, 2014 in Mineola, after being sentenced in connection with a deadly crash on the Southern State Parkway that killed the off-duty, drunk NYPD officer he was drag-racing on Sept. 11, 2011. Credit: Howard Schnapp

A judge sent an East Meadow man to jail Friday for his role in a 2011 parkway crash that authorities said happened after he drag-raced with an off-duty NYPD officer who was drunk and died in the wreck.

Jonathan Lopez's 10-month jail sentence comes after a jury convicted him in November on misdemeanor charges of assault, reckless endangerment and reckless driving.

They acquitted the 22-year-old of a manslaughter charge linked to the death of the police officer, Kevin Jessup, 25, of Massapequa.

Wearing a dark suit and blue tie, Lopez nodded toward his mother and other supporters, some of whom cried, as court officers led him away in handcuffs Friday.

The Southern State Parkway crash also injured the head of counterterrorism for the FBI's Long Island bureau, causing her car to flip as she drove to work on the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

Authorities have said Lopez and Jessup raced each other at speeds of more than 100 mph before the early-morning wreck on the border of the towns of Oyster Bay and Babylon.

Law-enforcement officials said Lopez lost control of his Nissan 350Z -- hitting Jessup's Nissan Maxima and sending it into a ditch -- before hitting FBI official Dawn Smallwood's Chevrolet Impala.

Nassau County Assistant District Attorney Brendan Ahern appealed Friday for a jail sentence of a year, saying Lopez's reckless actions nearly killed Smallwood and also posed a risk for other motorists.

"This court should send a clear message to this defendant and those others that turn our roadways into raceways," he said.

Defense attorney Bruce Barket asked for a probation sentence, calling his client a good person who was "sorry for the results of what took place."

"He was young, he was immature and he got baited into something he should not have done," Barket told the judge.

Authorities said at trial that Jessup also would have faced criminal charges if he had lived. A few jurors told Newsday after the verdict that Jessup's intoxication, speeding and decision not to wear a seat belt weighed heavily in their choice to acquit Lopez on the manslaughter charge.

Nassau County Judge Tammy Robbins on Friday called the case a difficult one to preside over, saying she didn't find Lopez -- who had worked as a restaurant host -- to be a bad person and got letters that spoke well of his character.

"I think that you're a person that made a very, very bad and tragic mistake in this case," she said, adding she also didn't condone the off-duty officer's actions.

But Robbins said the bottom line was Lopez "did wreak havoc on the roads," endangering drivers including one who happened to be an FBI official on her way to work.

"I do feel that incarceration is appropriate," she said, in meting out the jail time.

But Ron Jessup, the late officer's father, called the sentence unjust as his family left court, declining to comment further.

Barket, who had said his client wouldn't speak in court because of a possible appeal, later called the sentence "troubling" and "disappointing" and said an appeal would be forthcoming.

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