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Man charged in officer's death: 'I feel bad'

James Ryan, 25, arrives back home at his

James Ryan, 25, arrives back home at his parents home in Oakdale. (Oct. 19, 2012) Credit: James Carbone

An accused drunken driver -- charged with vehicular manslaughter after a different vehicle struck and killed the Nassau County police officer who came to his rescue -- is free on bond.

The driver, James Ryan, 25, of Oakdale, expressed sympathy Friday to the family of Officer Joseph Olivieri, who died on the Long Island Expressway in the pre-dawn hours of Thursday morning.

"I feel bad," Ryan said before his arraignment at First District Court in Hempstead on multiple charges.

Ryan offered condolences to the family of Olivieri, 43, struck while investigating the multicar accident in the expressway's eastbound lanes, in North Hills, at Exit 35.

Charges against Ryan, of 102 Matthews Rd., include second-degree vehicular manslaughter, reckless endangerment, reckless driving, driving while intoxicated and leaving the scene of an accident.

His blood alcohol content was .09 percent, according to prosecutors. The legal limit is .08 percent.

The arraignment judge, Eric Bjorneby, set bail at $120,000, cash or bond. Ryan was freed Friday afternoon. He left court flanked by two bailbondswomen. The hood of his sweatshirt was pulled over his head.

Olivieri, a 13-year member of the force from Middle Island, was struck by a sport utility vehicle about 5 a.m., as he helped assist Ryan in getting out of his car, which had been involved in two accidents on the expressway, police said.

Ryan made the comments to reporters as he was being led from police headquarters to his arraignment Friday. Ryan's attorney, Brian Davis of Garden City, said Friday before the arraignment that his client is being overcharged. Davis said prosecutors are stretching to link Ryan's actions to the sequence of events that caused Olivieri's death.

"At some point, you have a cutoff in criminal liability," Davis said. "It's a stretch to impose criminal liability . . . to my client."

Davis added later, "He's suffering, and his sympathies go out to the Olivieri family."

Davis said Ryan's father is a Port Authority police officer.

Davis also said that he believes the drug charge will be dismissed. He said his client had Adderall on him, a drug commonly prescribed for attention-deficit disorder, because Ryan has a prescription for it.

Maureen McCormick, the county's chief vehicular crimes prosecutor, said the crash that killed Olivieri was the "foreseeable result of driving drunk on the Long Island Expressway."

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano on Thursday called it a sad day for the county and its police department.

"He was an exemplary police officer who leaves two children," Mangano said during a news conference in Mineola. "It's a tragic day for our great county. We're proud of his service."

District Attorney Kathleen Rice, in a statement Thursday, said, "My heart breaks for the officer's family, friends and colleagues."

Funeral arrangements for Olivieri were set on Friday. Visiting hours will be 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday at the Ronkonkoma Fire Department.

A funeral Mass will be offered Monday at St. Joseph Church in Ronkonkoma, followed by burial at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Coram.

Olivieri, who spent five years with the NYPD before coming to Nassau, is the 18th department police officer to die in a motor vehicle crash in the line of duty since the department was founded in 1925, and the second in 19 months. He had two children, Amanda, 21, and Daniel, 18.

The last Nassau County police officer to die in the line of duty during a crash was another highway patrolman, Officer Michael Califano, 44, of Wantagh. A flatbed truck struck his patrol car in February 2011 on the Long Island Expressway -- the same highway where Olivieri was fatally struck.

The officer's death Thursday was another reminder of the dangers police officers face patrolling the roadways of Long Island.

Another Nassau County police officer remains in critical but stable condition at Nassau University Medical Center more than two weeks after he was struck by a passing car in Lawrence. The officer, whose name has not been released, was assigned to crack down on speeders. He was struck by a motorist Oct. 2 as he stood outside his patrol car on the northbound side of Route 878, the Nassau Expressway, just north of the Atlantic Beach Bridge. The driver was not charged.

The events leading up to Olivieri's death began with a call of a flat tire on the expressway at about 4:45 a.m.

Instead of a flat tire, it was an accident on the eastbound LIE that Olivieri came upon.

Police said in the minutes before the officer arrived, Ryan had collided with a 2008 BMW, then continued east and stopped abruptly in the left lane near Exit 35.

His car was struck by an oncoming 2005 Honda Civic, police said.

Olivieri then arrived and parked his cruiser in the right travel lane and crossed in the dark to help Ryan from his Toyota Camry. The cruiser's emergency lights were flashing, police said, as Olivieri crossed the expressway.

At about the same time, the driver of a Ford Explorer saw the accident and stopped before reaching the crash site.

The officer was hit by a 2002 Cadillac Escalade as he was assisting Ryan, police said.

Investigators believe the Escalade driver, who is not expected to be charged, saw the flashing lights of Olivieri's cruiser but didn't see Ryan's Camry "until the last minute." The driver swerved to avoid Ryan's car but struck Olivieri and the Camry, police said.

Attempts to reach family members at Ryan's Oakdale home were unsuccessful.

A neighbor, Joe McDermott, said Ryan "seems like a decent kid. He was not a kid that ever got into trouble. This is like your worst nightmare."

With Robert Brodsky, Sarah Crichton, Gary Dymski, Ann Givens, Tania Lopez and Bill Mason

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