The family of a Nassau County police officer killed after a drunken driver triggered accidents on the Long Island Expressway in 2012 is disappointed that a state appeals court has thrown out the motorist’s manslaughter conviction, the cop’s brother said Thursday.
Michael Olivieri, the brother of Officer Joseph Olivieri, said his family felt betrayed by the Appellate Division panel that vacated James Ryan’s manslaughter conviction on Wednesday.
“He spent two years in prison and now he gets out, but my brother will never get out,” said Olivieri, of Holbrook. “We are very disappointed. He went to trial and a jury examined the evidence and found him guilty of those charges and then a panel of judges overturned it. That is unfair.”
Ryan, 31, of Oakdale, was released from the Collins Correctional Facility near Buffalo on Thursday, his attorney Marc Gann of Mineola said.
Ryan had served more than 2 years of a 5- to 12-year prison sentence when his conviction on second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and other charges was tossed. The appeals court affirmed other charges, including third-degree assault, reckless driving and driving while intoxicated.
Gann said that although Ryan and his family were relieved by the court’s decision, they understood the Olivieri family had suffered a tremendous loss. Ryan’s father, Pat Ryan, is a retired Port Authority police officer and the Ryan family is well aware of the dangers cops face every day, Gann said.
“I don’t think that a day has gone by where James has not thought of the Olivieri family,” Gann said.
Ryan’s family declined to comment Thursday.
After getting drunk at a Manhattan lounge, Ryan was speeding east on the LIE when he sideswiped a BMW with his Toyota Camry near Exit 35, prosecutors said during his 2016 trial. Shortly after that accident, Ryan stopped short on the expressway and was rear-ended by a Honda Civic driven by an off-duty NYPD detective. Ryan’s car spun around and came to rest in the LIE’s high-occupancy vehicle lane.
Other motorists parked their cars along the right shoulder of the LIE, the justices said in their Wednesday decision. Another driver parked in the far-left lane, adjacent to Ryan’s Toyota. Olivieri, 43, parked his vehicle on the far-right side of the highway after he arrived at the scene.
The police officer was crossing the expressway on foot as a Cadillac Escalade driven by Francis Belizaire, 53, of Bay Shore, approached the scene. Belizaire’s SUV hit Ryan’s Toyota, then fatally struck Olivieri, according to prosecutors and court documents. Ryan’s blood alcohol level was .12 percent an hour after the accident, the justices said. The legal limit is .08 percent.
The justices said Belizaire had failed to pay attention to conditions on the highway when he attempted to drive through the crash scene at 37 mph. They said too much time had passed between the time of Ryan’s accidents and when Belizaire had arrived at the scene.
Belizaire did not return a call for comment Thursday.
Michael Olivieri said his brother’s death continues to pain his two adult children and other family members. “The grieving never ends,” he said, “even if the prison sentence does.”