Five teenagers packed into a brand-new 2012 Subaru Impreza Sunday night and drove out to Nassau County to see a movie. They were heading home along the Southern State Parkway hours later when the routine night took a tragic turn as the car approached Exit 17 in Lakeview along a notorious stretch of road known for accidents.
The driver, 17-year-old Joseph Beer of Richmond Hill, lost control of the car, veered across two lanes, across the shoulder and into trees along the side of the road, slicing the car in half.
Beer survived, but his four passengers — Christopher Khan, Peter Kanhai, Darian Ramnarine and Neil Rajapa, all 18 — died at the scene. All four lived in Queens and graduated from Richmond Hill High School on June 26. Beer is a senior at the school.
The horrific accident occurred on the westbound side of the parkway on a dangerous curve. The so-called “Blood Alley” is termed that because of the high number of accidents at the curve. It features an abrupt veer to right shortly before Exit 17 after a long straightaway through Hempstead Lake State Park. Though the curve is usually clogged with traffic at busy times of day, at night and during times of low traffic volume, the sudden curve often trips up even experienced drivers.
But Beer was not an experienced driver.
The 17-year-old did not even have a driver’s license and was only driving with a learner’s permit.
Legally, Beer should not have been driving at all. The accident took place at 3:40 a.m., when a driver with a learner’s permit is not legally allowed to be behind the wheel. Also, drivers with permits are never allowed to drive without someone over the age of 21 in the car, nor are they allowed to have more than one passenger under the age of 21 who is not a family member.
Whether or not Beers should have been at the wheel Monday morning was a question for another day at the funeral for Khan held Wednesday morning in South Ozone Park. Hundreds of people packed the Bergen Funeral Home on Rockaway Boulevard to say goodbye.
“God needed more angels,” said Avinash Ramkumar, 17, who was a friend of all four guys. Ramkumar fought back tears in the funeral home.
Virenda Ramkissoon, who arrived at the funeral in a maroon Honda Odyssey with the names of his late friends painted on it, said he was closest to Ramnarine. They attended Richmond Hill High School and City Tech together.
“It’s just sad that I will never get another hello from him,” he said.
The accident sent shockwaves through the Richmond Hill HS community. A teacher at the school, who did not want to be identified due to Department of Education rules, said the school was “still processing” the tragedy. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott came to RHHS Tuesday morning when the school community returned from Columbus Day weekend and met with students and staff to express condolences. DOE spokesman David Pena said grief counselors are on hand at the school for both students and teachers.
The teacher said due to staff turnovers last year, many of her colleagues were unfamiliar with the graduates who died but knew Beer, whom she described as “a typical kid.”
“I can’t imagine how he must feel,” she added.
A number of teachers attended Khan’s funeral Wednesday morning, including Fideline Segall, a teacher and senior class advisor. Segall spoke inside the funeral home of Khan’s smile and kind manners.
“If he was in pain, he would never show it,” she said. “He was always smiling.”
Friends and family left messages of condolences on the four teenagers’ Facebook pages, including one set up purposely as a memorial for Ramnarine.
According to police sources, Beer was found alive and awake at the scene, screaming for his deceased friends.
New York State Police, who have jurisdiction over the parkways on Long Island, are investigating the crash and are looking into whether or not drugs and alcohol may have been a factor or if Beer was high at the time of the accident.
Beer is still recovering at a Nassau County hospital and police have not said if they will charge him with anything.