MINEOLA, N.Y. (AP) — A teenager who admitted smoking marijuana and speeding before crashing into a tree on a Long Island highway in 2012, killing four of his friends and splitting his new car in half, could spend as little as four years in prison following a plea deal reached Tuesday.
Joseph Beer was convicted in June of manslaughter and other charges, but a Nassau County jury deadlocked on the top count of aggravated vehicular homicide. Prosecutors were considering whether to retry Beer on the deadlocked charge but settled the case with Beer's guilty plea to the top count.
Beer, now 19 and from New York, also pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of marijuana.
"He knew he was facing another trial with the possibility of a higher sentence," Assistant District Attorney Maureen McCormick told reporters after the proceeding. "He made a decision for himself. We're just grateful because the families really didn't want to undergo another trial."
Under sentencing guidelines, Beer could have received up to 25 years on the aggravated vehicular homicide conviction, but County Court Judge David Sullivan promised the defendant he would receive no more than five to 15 years when he is sentenced Aug. 26.
Defense attorney Todd Greenberg indicated that sentence could be reduced further if the judge grants Beer youthful offender status because he was 17 at the time of the October 2012 crash. Greenberg noted there is a push in Albany to change the age for youthful offender status from 16 to 18.
Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice opposes granting Beer youthful offender status, spokesman Shams Tarek said Tuesday. Rice supports changing the age to 18, but only for nonviolent offenders, Tarek said.
A decision on the youthful offender application will be made at sentencing, Greenberg said.
Prosecutors said Beer was driving faster than 100 mph on the Southern State Parkway when he smashed into the tree. The crash happened on a stretch of highway dubbed Dead Man's Curve because of a treacherous hill that leads to a sharp curve in the highway.
The spectacular crash cut the high-performance Subaru in half, killing the four boys instantly. Beer was the lone survivor and had only minor injuries.