Jurors heard closing arguments Monday in the vehicular homicide trial of a 19-year-old Queens teenager who prosecutors charge was high on marijuana and speeding at more than 110 mph before a crash that split his car in half and killed his four friends on the Southern State Parkway.
Joseph Beer faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted of aggravated vehicular homicide, manslaughter, reckless driving, reckless endangerment and other charges in connection with the October 2012 crash. Beer’s four passengers – 18-year-olds Darian Ramnaraine, Peter Kanhai and Chris Khan and 17-year-old Neal Rajapa – were all killed when his 2012 Subaru Impreza was ripped in half when he lost control of the car and smashed into a tree.
“Speed and weed – that’s what caused this crash,” Assistant District Attorney Michael Bushwack said during closing arguments Monday. “The faster he drove, the greater the risk his friends would die. This defendant caused this to happen. He temped fate and made this happen.”
Beer’s defense lawyer, Todd Greenberg, told jurors they’d have “honest doubt” because he says prosecutors didn’t prove that Beer was impaired by marijuana and that the impairment caused the crash – the two factors he said that would be necessary for jurors to find his client guilty of the top charge.
Greenberg said his client doesn’t deny smoking marijuana the day of the crash, but insists there is a discrepancy about when he smoked the weed. A first responder who responded to the scene testified that Beer told him he smoked $20 worth of marijuana immediately before driving. The defense attorney says Beer had been smoking – with his friends – before he left his house. He insists Beer, who he called a “chronic marijuana user,” was not impaired by the drugs.
“Smoking is not the issue; it’s impairment that’s the issue,” Greenberg said. “The law does not say ingestion is a crime. The law says impairment is a crime.”
Greenberg also doesn’t deny his client was speeding at the time of the crash, but disputes the assertion by prosecutors that Beer was traveling a minimum of 110 mph. He said the Southern State Parkway, around the crash site, is “dangerous” because of an incline, blind spot and a curve. He said there are no signs that warn drivers of limited visibility, but Bushwack countered that Beer would have likely ignored the signs because he was ignoring the speed limit.
Bushwack said Beer would be guilty of the homicide charge because the marijuana “forged a link in the chain of events that caused the crash.” Calling it lethal recklessness, Bushwack said the purpose of the so-called “blunt ride” was “to put lives on the line.” Jurors will receive legal instructions from the judge early Tuesday and begin deliberations afterward.