Opening statements began Thursday morning in the homicide trial of a Queens teenager who prosecutors say was high on marijuana and speeding at more than 110 mph in a crash that killed his four friends on the Southern State Parkway in Nassau County.
Joseph Beer, 19, wept as Assistant District Attorney Stefanie Palma graphically described the fatal injuries Beer’s four friends suffered after his 2012 Subaru Impreza was ripped in half when he lost control of the car and smashed into a tree along the Southern State Parkway in Malverne. In court Thursday, Palma said Beer referred to his limited edition sedan as a "rocket ship” and said he was out on a “blunt ride” at 3:35 a.m. on Oct. 8, 2012 while “getting high and speeding on Nassau’s highways for fun.”
Beer faces up to 25 years in prison on a myriad of charges, including aggravated vehicular homicide, vehicular manslaughter, manslaughter, reckless driving, reckless endangerment and operating a vehicle without a license, in connection with the October 2012 crash. The four passengers in his car – 18-year-olds Darian Ramnarine, Peter Kanhai and Chris Khan and 17-year-old Neal Rajapa – were all killed after they were tossed from the vehicle during the crash.
“Joseph Beer was the one who smoked weed and drove his 'rocket ship' at fatally high speeds,” Palma told jurors. “The defendant impaired himself knowing he was driving. The defendant impaired himself because he was driving. That’s what made it fun for Joseph Beer.”
Beer’s defense lawyer, Todd Greenberg, told jurors his client did smoke marijuana before getting in the car, but argued that he was not impaired behind the wheel. “The issue is actual impairment, not ingestion,” he said. “We’ll deal with the speed, we’ll deal with the road, but this is not about marijuana. This case was not caused by marijuana use.”
Greenberg said he didn’t believe prosecutors would be able to prove that Beer was impaired by the drugs and that the impairment caused the crash – the two elements he said would be necessary for jurors to find his client guilty of the top charge. Instead, he argued that portion of the highway was a “dangerous curve,” saying he will call first responders who will testify that they refer to the spot as “Dead Man’s Curve.”
Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice was seated in the front row of the courtroom gallery to hear opening statements in the case. She declined to comment afterward. Beer’s parents also declined to comment as they left court Thursday. Testimony in the case -- which is expected to last several weeks -- continues Monday.