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Judge dismisses top charges in crash that killed Nassau cop Joseph Olivieri

James Ryan, 26, of Oakdale, leaves court in

James Ryan, 26, of Oakdale, leaves court in Mineola after facing upgraded charges in an accident last year that resulted in the death of Officer Joseph Olivieri of Middle Island. (April 10, 2013) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

A judge ruled Tuesday that a man whom prosecutors charged with causing Nassau police Officer Joseph Olivieri Jr.'s death after allegedly driving drunk wasn't responsible for the fatal crash.

Nassau County Judge Jerald Carter dismissed an aggravated vehicular homicide charge and six other criminal counts from an April indictment against James Ryan, 26, of Oakdale.

Carter said the officer's Oct. 18, 2012, death was "solely attributable" to the actions of a different driver who had been behind the wheel of a sport utility vehicle that struck Olivieri.

But the judge added he didn't condone Ryan's other accused crimes involving two accidents minutes earlier on the Long Island Expressway near Exit 35 in North Hills.

Defense attorney Marc Gann called the ruling a relief for Ryan and his mother and father, who is a retired Port Authority police officer.

"I'm not sure they can believe this day has come," Gann said after the Ryans left court without responding to questions.

Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice said her office will file an appeal, adding in a statement that Olivieri was "suddenly and violently killed" responding to two crashes that she said Ryan's drunken driving sparked.

Prosecutors have said Ryan's vehicle struck a car on the LIE, then caused a collision with a car that rear-ended him before he stopped.

When Olivieri came to help Ryan, the SUV hit and fatally injured him, prosecutors said.

The government had argued Ryan's actions forged a link in the chain of events that caused Olivieri's death.

But the defense claimed -- and the judge later agreed -- that the actions of the sport utility vehicle driver who hit the officer caused his death.

Rice spokesman Shams Tarek said Tuesday investigators decided before presenting the case to a grand jury that the SUV driver's actions weren't criminal. Now, that motorist can't face charges because his grand jury testimony "conferred immunity on him," Tarek said.

Ryan could have faced a maximum of 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison if a jury convicted him of the highest charge in the indictment, but now faces up to 2 to 7 years.

The top charge he now faces is assault in the injury of an off-duty NYPD detective whose car he collided with before stopping.

Olivieri, 43, was a 13-year member of the Nassau police force and previously had spent five years with the NYPD.

In November, county officials renamed the LIE overpass on New Hyde Park Road in North Hills in the late officer's honor.

Nassau Police Benevolent Association president James Carver called Tuesday's ruling disappointing. "If it wasn't for the actions of the defendant that morning, police Officer Olivieri would be alive this day," he said.

Reached by phone, Olivieri's father said he had no comment.


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