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Jury convicts driver of manslaughter in fatal LIE crash 

Areefeen Hirji, of Muttontown, one of two men

Areefeen Hirji, of Muttontown, one of two men arrested by Nassau County police and charged in connection with a fatal vehicular crash on the eastbound Long Island Expressway on Feb. 23, 2017. Credit: NCPD

A Nassau jury convicted a Muttontown man of manslaughter Wednesday, deciding he shares the blame with a motorist he was racing for a 19-year-old's death on the Long Island Expressway.

An attorney for Areefeen Hirji, 21, had contended his client was the victim of the other driver’s road rage and he was speeding to escape a “chase” before the Feb. 23, 2017, crash in Woodbury.

But the Nassau district attorney’s office had argued Hirji and the other driver, Jonnathan Santos, 22, of Manhasset, treated the LIE “like a racetrack.”

Prosecutors told jurors that while the two motorists were strangers, they took part in an impromptu race at more than 120 mph and were equally culpable for the high-speed collision that killed victim Gianfranco Peralta of Manhasset.

Authorities said Peralta had been a backseat passenger in the 2015 BMW 528i Santos was driving, and died at the scene after a collision between the BMW and the 2017 Honda Accord that Hirji was driving.

Santos faces sentencing in January following his October plea to manslaughter and driving while impaired by the combined influence of alcohol and drugs. Jurors on Wednesday also convicted Hirji of leaving the scene of the crash, reckless endangerment, reckless driving and making a punishable false written statement.

Acting State Supreme Court Justice Francis Ricigliano remanded Hirji to jail after the verdict, sparking an outburst from Hirji’s mother before she struggled with several court officers as they removed her from the courtroom.

“You’re going to ruin my son’s life!” the Muttontown woman told the judge.

She collapsed to her knees outside the courtroom, telling prosecutors as they left that they were “not gonna win,” accusing them of using her son for “fame,” and insisting the verdict was “not justice.”

About a dozen court officers surrounded the woman and other family members of Hirji before they exited the courthouse minutes later after more shouting from the mother — who insisted the crash was an accident.

Hirji’s attorney, Stephen Scaring, said Monday in his closing argument that Santos had used marijuana, alcohol and Xanax, and was looking “to harass and intimidate” his client on the LIE. He said Hirji sped up to try to get away from the BMW, and “did not see what happened after the impact."

But prosecutor Stephanie Dellinger told jurors the victim died a “gruesome death” after Hirji and Santos chose to turn the LIE into a “personal racetrack,” before Hirji fled after the crash because he was drunk.

Dellinger also said Hirji later gave “two completely different stories” to police, first saying someone else was driving the Honda, before admitting he was behind the wheel but adding that he fled in fear of the other driver.

Scaring expressed disappointment after the verdict and said his client would file an appeal.

Dellinger told the judge Hirji potentially could face consecutive sentences for his multiple convictions, with her office saying later that he faced up to 7 1/3 to 22 years in prison.

In a statement, Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas called the crash a tragedy "from the young life lost to the young defendants convicted of their crimes," adding that the verdict "sends a strong message" racing won't be tolerated on local roads.

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