New York City Police Officer Who Killed Student While Driving Drunk Is Freed

Four months in jail and community service is the penalty a former New York City police officer has ended up paying for killing a 22-year-old student last year in a drunken-driving accident in Queens.

At a brief appearance in Queens Criminal Court on Friday, the officer, Neville Smith, was released from jail to start 500 hours of community service and alcohol counseling before he is formally sentenced in the case in September.

Under the terms of a plea deal with the Queens district attorney, Mr. Smith had already fulfilled the jail time he is required to serve — four months of a six-month sentence, his lawyer, Anthony M. La Pinta, said after the appearance before Judge Gia L. Morris.

“Mr. Smith takes full responsibility and is heartbroken over the death of this young girl,” Mr. La Pinta said. “And he prays for her family every day.”

Fourteen months ago, Mr. Smith was speeding south on the Van Wyck Expressway at 4 a.m. when he slammed into the rear of a Honda driven by Vanessa Raghubar, a student at York College. The impact sent Ms. Raghubar’s car into a light pole on the highway’s western shoulder.

Officers found Mr. Smith alone in his Mercedes, with bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and alcohol on his breath. He told officers he had been “returning home from a dinner function for an old co-worker,” according to court papers, and he refused to submit to Breathalyzer or blood tests.

He was later indicted on charges that included vehicular manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide, exposing him to a maximum penalty of seven years in prison. “The defendant — a police officer bound to enforce the law — is now accused of breaking the law and with deadly consequences,” the Queens district attorney, Richard A. Brown, said in a statement at the time.

Ms. Raghubar was taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center where she died of brain injuries at about 1 a.m. the following day, April 24, 2017. Her two back-seat passengers — her sister, Maria Raghubar, 21, and Justin Harriharran, 20 — were also injured in the crash. Maria Raghubar was hurt most seriously, suffering a broken hip and arm, as well as internal injuries.

In January, Mr. Smith, 33, a patrolman in the 48th Precinct in the Bronx, resigned from the New York Police Department and pleaded guilty to second-degree vehicular manslaughter, officials said. He was jailed on Feb. 13 as part of the deal with prosecutors, his lawyer said.

John W. Kosinski, the assistant district attorney in the case, said the victim’s family members were aware of the deal and would speak at the officer’s sentencing. He said there were factors mitigating the officer’s culpability but he could not discuss them. Phone calls to the Raghubar family were not returned.

Second-degree vehicular manslaughter is a Class D felony, carrying a maximum sentence of up to seven years in prison but no minimum sentence. About 61 percent of people convicted in New York State between 2012 and 2017 in cases in which second-degree vehicular manslaughter was the top charge were sent to state prison, state criminal justice officials said.

Asked if the arrangement represented a lenient plea deal for such a serious crime, Mr. La Pinta said, “It’s my understanding there was fault by both drivers in the cause of the accident and in my opinion that was what paved the way to this plea.”

But William Hughes, a journalism professor at York College who assigned student reporters to cover Ms. Raghubar’s death, questioned whether justice was being served. “They very quietly snuck this guy through,” Mr. Hughes said. “I feel like this family’s rights have been trampled on.”

Mr. La Pinta said Mr. Smith had no history of alcoholism and had not been out partying with fellow officers on the night he crashed his car. Still, he said Mr. Smith would work as part of his community service to lecture against drunken driving within the New York Police Department.

“Hopefully, Neville can help other officers that have turned to alcohol to deal with the stress and rigors of their jobs,” said Mr. La Pinta. “Who better than a former N.Y.P.D. officer to take on that responsibility?”