Queens Teen Joseph Beer Convicted of Vehicular Homicide in Marijuana DWI
Two years ago, 17-year-old Queens teen Joseph Beer was driving around Long Island with four of his friends. Impaired by marijuana, Beer crashed his Subaru Impreza into a tree at over 100 mph, totaling the car and killing all four of his teenage passengers in a fiery wreck. Now 19, Beer has been sentenced to five to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty to aggravated vehicular homicide.
Was Beer Remorseful?
It was 4 A.M. on October 8, 2012. Joseph Beer, 17 years old at the time, was accelerating down the Southern State Parkway in his Subaru Impreza, four of his friends riding along as passengers. Intoxicated and traveling at enormous triple-digit speeds well above the posted limit, Beer lost control of the car, and his passengers lost their lives.
For both Beer and the families of his victims — 18-year-old Christopher Khan, 18-year-old Darian Ramnarine, 18-year-old Peter Kanhai, and 17-year-old Neal Rajapa — the next two years would be consumed by emotional court proceedings, which finally culminated in Beer’s sentencing in Nassau County Court on August 26.
Beer pleaded guilty to aggravated vehicular homicide on July 29 after accepting a plea deal with prosecutors. Beer explained that he didn’t want to put his victim’s family members through any further court appearances, preferring instead to bring an end to a lengthy and painful trial.
“Of course we’re disappointed,” conceded Beer’s defense attorney, Todd Greenberg. “But yet, as a man, he stood up there; he understood that his conduct was wrong. He understands his errors of that night, and he wants to urge other people not to do that.”
“Driving while intoxicated by alcohol or drugs is a serious epidemic in this country,” Beer read from a statement during sentencing on Tuesday. “The loss of lives which result from these senseless decisions are completely unacceptable. […] I hope in the future awareness is raised and lives are saved.”
Beer also stated, “I know there is a lot of anger [toward me]. 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.”
“I don’t think he’s sorry,” said Sharon Rajapa, mother of victim Neal Rajapa, outside Nassau County Court. She added, “From day one, I was in court with [Peter Kanhai’s] mom and there was no remorse — not from his family or Joseph.”
Beer’s remorse — or in some instances, an apparent lack thereof — was a source of contention throughout the trial. Judge David Sullivan also expressed the opinion that Beer never appeared to display sincere remorse, agreeing with a probation officer who felt that the young defendant’s “limited expressions of sorrow seemed self-centered.”
Beer’s family has a different opinion. Says father Aditia Beer, “Those were his friends, you know, and I don’t think he’s thinking about anything else.”
Judge Denies Youthful Offender Status
For Maureen McCormick, who serves as the chief of Nassau County D.A. Kathleen Rice’s Vehicular Crimes Bureau, the sentence handed down by Judge Sullivan was satisfactory.
“If you are old enough to drive,” says McCormick, “you are old enough to bear the criminal consequences of the decisions that you make.”
Beer was 17 years old at the time of the crash in 2012. Attorney Greenberg pointed to Beer’s young age during trial, arguing that his client should be granted youthful offender status. Under New York Law, young defendants may be placed into one of three categories:
- Juvenile Delinquents — Over 7, under 16
- Juvenile Offenders — Age 13-15
- Youthful Offenders — Age 16-18
Therefore, Beer’s age could have qualified him for youthful offender status rather than adult status in court. The benefit of this classification is that, under § 720.10 of the New York Penal Law, Beer would have received what’s called a youthful offender finding, instead of receiving an actual criminal conviction. As a result, Beer’s maximum sentence would have been capped at four years, rather than the considerably longer sentence of five to 15 years which he ultimately received.
However, Judge Sullivan denied Greenberg’s request, calling the scene of the accident “one of the most horrific scenes in the county’s history.” Judge Sullivan added, “He must be punished.”
While Greenberg may have been “disappointed” in the outcome of the trial, Beer’s story may not be over just yet: he has stated he intends to appeal.
Pending some new development, he will be eligible for parole in approximately three years.
In a final eerie detail, the section of the Parkway involved in the fatal crash — the area near exit 17N — is known as “Dead Man’s Curve” due to a sudden corner with poor visibility.
“Unfortunately,” says Heather Senti, chief of the Lakeview Volunteer Fire Department, “it has its own nickname of ‘dead man’s curve’ because it comes up so quickly and it’s such a sharp turn.”
If you or someone you love has been charged with DWI, marijuana possession, or other crimes in the New York City area, call Queens criminal defense attorney Victor Knapp, Esq., at (718) 263-9000 for a private legal consultation. You can also contact our law offices online.