The family of a school bus driver who died in a 2012 collision in Locust Valley got some relief from their anguish when a Nassau jury yesterday found cement truck driver Raymond Ragen guilty of manslaughter and assault in connection with the crash.
"This is justice," said victim Jorge Guevara's former wife, Claudia, 37, who hugged prosecutors after the verdict. " . . . This would not bring Jorge back but at last we have this comfort."
Jurors also acquitted Ragen, 45, of Mineola, of the top charge of aggravated vehicular homicide, along with vehicular manslaughter and a separate assault charge after a trial that lasted about three weeks.
Ragen is now facing up to 15 years in prison instead of what could have been a possible 25 years behind bars.
Assistant District Attorney Brendan Ahern said the verdict delivered justice for all the victims and showed it was Ragen's reckless conduct behind the wheel of a 30,000-pound vehicle that caused the collision.
Prosecutors had alleged that in July 2012 Ragen drove into a railroad bridge he knew was too low for his cement mixer, before plowing head-on into a school bus bringing special-needs children home from summer camp.
Besides killing Guevara, a 45-year-old father of four, the Oyster Bay Road crash also left bus attendant Louis Kragouras, 65, of Bethpage, with crippling injuries. He needed a hip replacement and a metal rod implant in one knee after suffering multiple broken bones.
Four autistic children aboard the bus also were hurt, including a 6-year-old boy who suffered a broken jaw and a detached lip.
Authorities had claimed Ragen was high on Valium and talking on his cellphone at the time of the crash.
They said GPS records showed he knew his truck couldn't fit under the bridge because he'd reversed course in the same area earlier that day.
But the defense argued that two police officers who spoke to Ragen after the crash didn't find him to be impaired.
Defense attorney David Besso also said that the amount of Valium in Ragen's blood was less than minuscule.
The defense claimed a sport utility vehicle sideswiped or cut off Ragen, causing him to hit his head and lose consciousness, before the cement mixer hit the bridge.
But prosecutors said they didn't find evidence of an SUV's involvement and said Ragen wouldn't have been able to navigate a turn in the road if he'd been unconscious.
Besso said his client would appeal what he called a "compromise verdict by the jury."
"He wasn't reckless at all and obviously they didn't believe that he was impaired at all because of the fact that they found not guilty of all those counts," he said. " . . . We'll keep fighting."
But Gladys Guevara, 48, the late bus driver's sister, said she hopes the verdict sends a message to other drivers about being safe on the roads so another family isn't destroyed.
"We try to rebuild our lives, but it's really hard," the Locust Valley woman said.