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Oakdale man faces upgraded charges in officer's death

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) Credit: Howard Schnapp

James Ryan was standing near his crashed car at the side of the Long Island Expressway last October near Manhasset when a Nassau police officer approached him to ask if he was OK, he said in a statement.

A moment later, the Oakdale man saw a sport utility vehicle hit his parked Toyota Camry, and heard the sound of shouting, "Officer down! Officer down!" Ryan, 26, said in a statement to police. The SUV had hit Officer Joseph Olivieri, 43, of Middle Island, who died from his injuries later that morning.

Prosecutors have since charged Ryan -- who they said was drunk at the time of the series of Oct. 18 crashes -- with causing the events that led to Olivieri's death.

Ryan pleaded not guilty Wednesday to upgraded charges, including aggravated vehicular homicide, a Class B felony that carries up to 81/3 to 15 years in prison.

Judge Jerald Carter's Nassau County Courtroom was packed with uniformed police officers Wednesday as Ryan's grand jury indictment was unsealed. Ryan, in court with his mother and father, a Port Authority police officer, remains free on $120,000 bond. He left court without commenting.

Prosecutor Brendan Ahern said the upgraded charges reflect the fact that, in addition to killing Olivieri, the crashes seriously hurt an off-duty NYPD officer driving home from work.

According to Ryan's statement to police, he had been at a bar in Manhattan the night before, and had had three vodkas with Sprite: One with a double shot of vodka, two with single shots. He stopped drinking about midnight, he said.

According to prosecutors, Ryan, who had 0.09 percent alcohol in his blood, above the state's limit of 0.08 percent, initially struck another car while driving east on the Long Island Expressway, but kept driving for about a half-mile. He then stopped abruptly in the HOV lane near Exit 35, and was rear-ended by another car. When Olivieri responded to help, the officer crossed the highway on foot and was hit by a Cadillac Escalade, prosecutors said. The driver of that vehicle has not been charged with a crime.

James Carver, who heads the Nassau Police Benevolent Association, said Ryan is to blame for the officer's death.

"He caused this series of events to happen, so he should be held responsible," Carver said.

But Ryan's attorney, Marc Gann of Mineola, said it will be difficult for prosecutors to pin the blame for Olivieri's death on his client. "It strikes me as weird that the individual who struck and killed officer Olivieri is not charged with anything," he said.

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