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Conviction Overturned In Nassau County Officer's Death In Chain-Reaction Crash On LIE

MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – A Long Island man is coming home from an upstate prison years early after his conviction was unexpectedly overturned.

James Ryan, 31, of Oakdale, was sentenced to more than five years for manslaughter in the death of Nassau County Police Officers Joseph Olivieri.

Ryan was released Thursday, after two years behind bars.

"I don't think he knew, perhaps even until this morning, the court had ruled in his favor," defense attorney Marc Gann said.

James Ryan - Joseph Olivieri
James Ryan, Officer Joseph Olivieri (credit: Handouts)

Olivieri's colleagues were left trying to make sense of a bombshell state appellate court ruling, overturning a jury's conviction.

"At this point, we are numb," said Nassau County Police Benevolent Association President James McDermott

Fellow officers were outraged that Ryan, speeding east on the Long Island Expressway in 2012 after getting drunk at a Manhattan lounge, sideswiped a vehicle, stopped short and was rear-ended. Olivieri got out of his patrol car to assist, and more than seven minutes later, was hit and killed by another car driving through the crash scene.

"There was a break in the chain of events that led to Officer Olivieri's death," Gann said.

James Ryan
James Ryan is accused of vehicular manslaughter, reckless endangerment and other charges in the crash that resulted in the death of Officer Joseph Olivieri. (credit: CBS 2)

The court ruled too much time had passed between accidents to blame Ryan for the officer's death.

"What people are now going to examine within all these legal circles is: Would this officer be alive today if this DWI incident never occurred?" said Dr. Brian Kelly, of Farmingdale State College.

Olivieri's funeral mass was attended by hundreds. His family is deeply religious and spiritual.

Joseph Olivieri Funeral
Joseph Olivieri Funeral (credit: CBS 2)

Since the funeral, his mother has died. His father, reached in Florida, was shocked and sobbed at the turn of events. The Nassau County PBA spoke to the family by phone while CBS2's Jennifer McLogan was there.

"It's been a long road for the Olivieri family, and this just dredges up that day and everything else for them. We are hoping for closure one day for this family and a proper closure," McDermott said.

The district attorney is reviewing appeal options.

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