MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) — A New York City teenager who admitted smoking marijuana and speeding before crashing into a tree in 2012, killing four of his friends on Long Island, was sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison on Tuesday.
The judge decided against a four-year youthful offender sentence for Joseph Beer, who was 17 at the time of the crash.
Beer, now 19, of Queens, pleaded guilty in July to the top count of aggravated vehicular homicide in the fiery crash on the Southern State Parkway. A month earlier, a jury had deadlocked on the charge, but Beer decided to plead guilty to spare the families of his friends who died the ordeal of a second trial, his attorney said.
Beer also pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of marijuana. Defense attorney Todd Greenberg has argued that unlike blood-alcohol standards for drunken driving, police and prosecutors have yet to develop a reliable measurement for impairment from marijuana.
An expert testified that because Beer was a chronic marijuana smoker, his body's ability to process the active ingredient in marijuana may be different from someone who is an occasional user.
"We never denied that there was some responsibility," Greenberg said during the trial. But the defense "always maintained that Joseph Beer was not impaired, and the impairment by marijuana did not cause this accident."
Prosecutors said Beer was driving faster than 100 mph when he smashed into a tree on a stretch of highway dubbed Dead Man's Curve because of a treacherous hill that leads to a sharp curve.
The spectacular crash at about 4 a.m. on the Columbus Day holiday in October 2012 cut the high-performance Subaru in half, killing the four boys instantly. Glass, debris and other car parts were strewn along a wooded area adjacent to a nearby neighborhood street, where neighbors described being awakened by the sound of a loud explosion.
Beer was the lone survivor and had only minor injuries.
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