Oakdale man arrested in death of Nassau cop

A Nassau County highway patrolman was struck and killed while investigating a crash on the Long Island Expressway in North Hills early Thursday, police said. Videojournalist: Jim Staubister (Oct. 18, 2012)

A motorist being helped from his damaged sedan by a Nassau highway patrolman when the officer was struck and killed early yesterday on the Long Island Expressway was charged with drunken driving and vehicular manslaughter in the cop's death.

James Ryan, 25, of 102 Matthews Rd., Oakdale, was arrested hours after Officer Joseph Olivieri, 43, a 13-year member of the force from Middle Island, was hit in the eastbound lanes near Exit 35 in North Hills by a passing sport utility vehicle.

He was taken to North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset where he was pronounced dead, officials said.

Ryan was also charged with reckless endangerment, criminal possession of a controlled substance, and leaving the scene of an accident. He will be arraigned Friday at First District Court, Hempstead.

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano 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, said, "My heart breaks for the officer's family, friends and colleagues."

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 stopped his cruiser, parking it in the right travel lane. He crossed the expressway in the dark to help Ryan from his Toyota Camry, which had collided with two other cars. 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.

Funeral arrangements were pending, Olivieri's family 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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