By TOM HAYS
Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK- It was the middle of the night on a Manhattan roadway when off-duty police Officer Eric Concepcion somehow found himself on the opposite end of what authorities say was a fatal high-speed chase.
A red Jeep Grand Cherokee, driven by a volunteer firefighter flashing a blue-and-white emergency light, was in hot pursuit as Concepcion's motorcycle weaved in and out of traffic, prosecutors said. The chase ended, they said, when the firefighter rear-ended the bike and dragged the rider to his death.
On Tuesday, the firefighter, Robert Derian, 23, of Saddle River, N.J., was charged with manslaughter and drunken driving in state Supreme Court. "The defendant took a life in a grossly reckless manner," prosecutor David Lauscher told a judge.
Derian was ordered held on $250,000 bail despite his lawyer's insistence that his client meant no harm. "There was no road rage, no chase," said the attorney, James Kridel Jr. He called the crash a "mistake" and a "horrific event."
The incident began at about 12:15 a.m. Monday when Concepcion and a companion, also on a motorcycle, were traveling near Derian's Jeep Cherokee on the Henry Hudson Parkway.
Concepcion, 30, was a married father of two and a six-year police veteran assigned to the Yankee Stadium detail. Derian, who had no previous criminal record, lived with his parents, dabbled in real estate and volunteered with the Saddle River Rescue Squad.
As a volunteer, Derian was qualified to use a flashing light in emergencies but not to pull over other vehicles - nor was he trying to on Monday, his lawyer said.
Instead, Derian claimed he accidentally clipped the back tire of Concepcion's motorcycle following a lane change. As soon as he realized what had happened, he pulled over, called 911 and tried to comfort the still-conscious victim by telling him that "help was on the way," his lawyer said.
Derian found out much later that Concepcion was a police officer, and had died.
"He was despondent beyond belief," his lawyer said.
Authorities tell a different story: Police have suggested Derian and Concepcion may have exchanged words before the pursuit began. After the collision, the Jeep traveled another 900 feet, or "three football fields," before hitting a wall and stopping, the prosecutor said.
The off-duty officer "was struck with such force that almost the entire motorcycle was crammed under the Jeep," court papers said.
The documents said the defendant had a blood-alcohol level of 0.12, above the legal limit of 0.08. He allegedly told investigators that he had two rum and Cokes before the wreck.