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Queens teen gets 5 to 15 years in crash that killed friends

A Queens teen who prosecutors said was high on drugs and speeding at more than 110 mph when he crashed into a tree, killing his four friends, apologized Tuesday before being sentenced to serve up to 15 years in prison – and then left the courthouse smiling on his way back to jail.

Joseph Beer, 19, is led out of the Nassau County courthouse on Aug. 26, 2014, after being sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison for a fatal crash that killed his four friends.
Photo Credit: Mike Balsamo

Joseph Beer, 19, will need to serve a minimum of five years behind bars before he is eligible for parole in connection with the October 2012 crash. Prosecutors argued that a combination of “speed and weed” led to the fatal crash that killed Beer’s four passengers – Darian Ramnaraine, Peter Kanhai and Christopher Khan, all 18, and 17-year-old Neal Rajapa. Beer had admitted to smoking marijuana before taking the wheel, but his lawyer argued that because he was a “chronic” marijuana user, the drug didn’t impair him.

Beer was convicted in June on manslaughter charges, but a partial mistrial was declared in the case after jurors deadlocked on several other counts, including the top charge of aggravated vehicular homicide. Beer later pleaded guilty to the charge – and others – to avoid a second trial. Prosecutors said the verdict at the trial was 11 to one to convict him on all counts.

In court Tuesday, Beer apologized to the victims’ families. His hands were trembling as he read a two-page written statement aloud. “I know there is a lot of anger,” he said. “I hope one day the families will find it in their hearts to forgive me … I will never ever be able to right the wrong I have done.”

But his words were little consolation for the families, whose emotional cries echoed through the courtroom. “From day one, I was in court with Peter’s mom and there was no remorse – not from his family or Joseph,” Sharon Rajapa, the mother of victim Neal Rajapa, told reporters outside the courthouse. “I hope, you know, he chooses to be a better person.”

The judge said he hoped Beer’s statement was sincere, but said the teen showed no remorse. Sullivan said he agreed with a probation officer’s assessment that Beer’s “limited expressions of sorrow seemed self-centered.” Pointing to an assertion that had been excluded at the trial, he said Beer was an “intelligent, cunning marijuana dealer” who must be punished for one of the worst crashes in Nassau’s history.

Beer’s lawyer, Todd Greenberg, said his client was extremely remorseful and asked the judge to sentence him as a youthful offender. That designation would have only sent Beer behind bars for a maximum of four years and would have sealed a criminal conviction record. The judge denied the request and Greenberg plans to appeal.

“It's ridiculous these four men had to die and die at the hands of their friend, Maureen McCormick, the chief of the district attorney’s vehicular crimes unit, said. Speaking on behalf of the DA, she said Beer was sentenced appropriately for the “violent and senseless deaths.” Beer laughed with inmates and ignored questions when led out of court.

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