The trial of the alleged drunken driver charged in the 2012 death of Nassau County police officer Joseph Olivieri is set to begin in January, county prosecutors said Monday.
A county judge ruled prosecutors had sufficient evidence to bring James Ryan, 28, to trial on aggravated vehicular homicide charges for allegedly starting a chain of events that caused Olivieri to be hit and killed by a driver on the Long Island Expressway.
The case is the first of its kind to make it to the trial stage, the Nassau district attorney’s office said.
“Officer Olivieri was killed in the line of duty because James Ryan was committing a crime when he drove drunk, crashed and fled the scene and those criminal acts put Officer Olivieri directly in harm’s way,” Acting DA Madeline Singas said in a news release.
Prosecutors said they were ready to start immediately, but Ryan’s defense team asked to push the start date to Jan. 6 so their expert could finish a crash report.
At 4:43 a.m. on Oct. 18, 2012, Ryan allegedly crashed into and disabled a car while driving drunk on the L.I.E., then fled the scene toward the Shelter Rock Road exit.
He then hit another car, which injured the driver and caused Ryan’s car to stop against the center divider on the highway, prosecutors said.
Olivieri, a member of the Nassau County Highway Patrol Bureau, responded to the scene.
A separate car hit and killed him while he was caring for the injured drivers.
Prosecutors had to jump over some legal hurdles to get Ryan to trial.
A grand jury indicted him in April 2013, but county Judge Jerald Carter dismissed the indictment that December.
The DA’s office appealed the case to state Appellate Division, which reinstated the charges in February.
Ryan’s Mineola-based defense lawyers, Marc Gann and Zeena Abdi, made several attempts to appeal that ruling, but the state Court of Appeals rejected them.
While he is glad the case is finally going to trial, Gann said he thought Carter’s initial dismissal of the homicide charge was appropriate.
Gann said he found it “troubling” that prosecutors gave the driver who actually hit and killed Olivieri immunity from prosecution, adding that Ryan will appeal if he is convicted.
“The way this case has been handled by (the DA’s office) I find to be disturbing, and I certainly don’t agree with the decisions they’ve made on the case,” Gann said.
The DA’s office did not immediately respond to questions about why the driver was given immunity.