MINEOLA, NY (AP) — A New York City man who was high on marijuana and speeding at over 100 mph when he crashed his brand-new sports car into a tree on a Long Island highway, killing four of his friends, has been sentenced to 5-to-15 years in prison.
Joseph Beer, now 19, apologized to the victims’ families in a two-page statement he read Tuesday prior to being sentenced by Nassau County Court Judge David Sullivan. The judge rejected a defense motion to give Beer a four-year sentence as a youthful offender; he was 17 at the time of the crash.
“There isn’t a day when I don’t beg God for his forgiveness,” Beer said as his hands trembled at the defense table describing the deaths of his friends, whom he called brothers. “I don’t think I will ever be able to forgive myself.”
Beer pleaded guilty in July to the top count of aggravated vehicular homicide in the fiery crash on the Southern State Parkway. He was driving faster than 100 mph, prosecutors said, when he smashed into a tree on a stretch of highway dubbed Dead Man’s Curve because of a treacherous hill that leads to a sharp curve.
All four passengers – 18-year-olds Christopher Khan, Peter Kanhai and Darian Ramnarine, and 17-year-old Neal Rajapa, all of Richmond Hill, Queens, were killed instantly in the fiery crash.
The wreck at about 4 a.m. on the Columbus Day holiday in October 2012 cut the high-performance Subaru in half. Glass, debris and other car parts were strewn along a wooded area adjacent to a nearby neighborhood street, where neighbors described being awakened by the sound of a loud explosion.
Beer was the lone survivor and had only minor injuries.
Bryant Barr, stepfather of victim Peter Kanhai, said after the sentencing that it was “a tragedy on both sides,” including for Beer’s family. Barr said his family “can find forgiveness in our heart” even though he thought Beer exhibited “a lack of remorse.”
Sharon Rajapa, the mother of Neal Rajapa, said of the sentence: “Whatever it is, it’s not going to bring back my son. My son is already dead and that is never going to change if he has 10 years, 15 years, or 25 years. There is no remorse there, but I have to move on for my son to have peace.”
A jury in June convicted Beer of manslaughter, but deadlocked on the vehicular homicide charge. A month later, Beer decided to plead guilty to spare the families of his friends who died the ordeal of a second trial, his attorney said.
Beer also pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of marijuana. Defense attorney Todd Greenberg had argued that unlike blood-alcohol standards for drunken driving, police and prosecutors have yet to develop a reliable measurement for impairment from marijuana.
An expert testified that because Beer was a chronic marijuana smoker, his body’s ability to process the active ingredient in marijuana may be different from someone who is an occasional user.
Before imposing sentence, the judge noted weeks after the crash, Beer had his bail revoked because he failed a drug test for marijuana. “He must be punished,” Sullivan said, calling the crash, “one of the most horrific scenes in the county’s history.”