A Long Island man who prosecutors charged was high on Valium when was involved in a fatal crash with a school bus – that resulted in the bus driver’s death and injuries to an aide on board – was convicted Wednesday on manslaughter and assault charges.
Jurors, however, acquitted 45-year-old Raymond Ragen, of Mineola, on the top charge of aggravated vehicular homicide, vehicular manslaughter and a second assault count in connection with the July 2012 crash. He now faces up to 15 years in prison when he is sentenced on the felony charges.
Authorities alleged Ragen drove into a Long Island Rail Road crossing bridge in Matinecock, knowing the overpass was too low for his more than 13-foot cement truck, before crashing head-on with a mini-school-bus that was transporting special-needs children home from summer camp.
The crash killed the bus driver, 45-year-old Jorge Guevara, of Locust Valley, who prosecutors said was alive and pinned inside the mangled school bus for 30 minutes before succumbing to multiple blunt force injuries. A monitor aboard the bus, Louis Kragouras, 65, was seriously injured and testified he needed a hip replacement and had a steel rod implanted in his knee after the fatal collision.
Ragen had been indicted on two second-degree assault counts for injuries that Kragouras and one of the four autistic children aboard the bus suffered. Jurors found him guilty one of those counts – for allegedly crippling Kragouras – but not guilty on the other.
“The jury’s verdict delivered justice for Jorge Guevara, his family and Louis Kragouras,” Assistant District Attorney Brenden Ahearn said, adding the jury clearly found Ragen's reckless conduct caused the crash. “This was a smart jury...and it showed.”
Conversely, Ragen’s attorney said the verdict showed jurors dismissed the notion that Ragen was high on Valium. “It was a compromise verdict,” defense lawyer David Besso said. “Obviously they didn’t feel he was impaired.”
During the trial, Besso argued a sport utility vehicle had sideswiped Ragen’s truck, causing him to hit his head and lose consciousness before crashing into the overpass and said police did not attempt to locate the vehicle.
In order for jurors to find Ragen guilty of the top charge – aggravated vehicular homicide – they would have needed to find Ragen was impaired by Valium and that the impairment caused the crash, prosecutors said.
Although Ragen gave an audible sigh of relief after jurors delivered a not guilty verdict on that top charge, Besso said his client “wasn’t happy” when he heard he still may be facing up to 15 years in a state prison.
“We will keep fighting,” Besso said, noting he fully intends to appeal the verdict.
Guevara’s family members, who were in the courtroom to hear testimony and the jury deliver the verdict, said they were satisfied to see justice, but just miss their loved one.
“This result didn’t change anything,” Jorge’s sister, Gladys Guevara said. “We lost the moment my brother died. We lost. … This guy destroyed us. How somebody decides to drive a truck and kill my brother – that is not fair. We tried to rebuild our lives, but it’s really hard.”
Ragen was ordered remanded back to jail – where he has been for the past 15 months – and will be back in court on May 23.