A Queens teen who insisted he smoked marijuana so much that he wasn’t impaired by the drug in a fatal crash that killed his four friends reversed course Tuesday and pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide charges to avoid a possible longer prison sentence following a partial mistrial in his case.
Joseph Beer, 19, of Queens, was convicted in June of manslaughter charges in connection with an October 2012 crash that killed four of his friends. A partial mistrial was declared in the case after jurors deadlocked on several other counts, including the top charge of aggravated vehicular homicide.
Defense lawyer Todd Greenberg had argued that despite his client’s admissions of smoking marijuana before getting behind the wheel, scientific evidence showed it was possible Beer, who he called a chronic marijuana user, wasn’t impaired by the drug. He said the jury’s inability to reach a verdict meant they didn’t buy the prosecution’s theory that Beer was impaired by marijuana at the time. Greenberg also argued that the area around the crash site is dangerous because there are no signs warning of an incline, blind spot and a curve.
“He is now admitting he was impaired by marijuana, which we were confident the evidence always showed,” said Maureen McCormick, the chief of the Nassau DA’s Vehicular Crimes Bureau.“The reality of the situation is that he is already convicted of these deaths.” She also said the victims’ families did not want another trial.
Prosecutors have argued that Beer was impaired by marijuana and traveling at more than 110 mph when he lost control of his 2012 Subaru Impreza and smashed into a tree – ripping his car in half. At the trial, prosecutors said a combination of “speed and weed” led to the fatal crash. Beer’s four passengers – 18-year-olds Darian Ramnaraine, Peer Kanhai and Chris Khan and 17-year-old Neal Rajapa – were all killed on impact.
“Joseph has shown his remorse by accepting these charges,” Greenberg told reporters after the plea. “There’s an end to a case and an acceptance of responsibility. It’s time to move on.”
Greenberg said he still believed Beer may not have been impaired, but said “part of the system is plea bargaining.” He said the plea ensures his client will be eligible for parole in three years. Greenberg said his client “wants to move on, serve his time and come out and be a productive member of society.”
Greenberg said he would ask Nassau County Court Judge David Sullivan to declare Beer a youthful offender because the crash happened when he was 17 years old. If granted, Beer would only face a maximum of four years in prison. Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said in June that her office would oppose that request.
Beer declined to comment as officers led him down a courthouse hallway. He is due back in court on Aug. 26 for sentencing. Family members of victim Peter Kanhai who attended the court hearing also declined comment.