ITHACA, N.Y. – In a packed courtroom Thursday morning, a young man pleaded guilty to accidentally causing the death of a teen passenger in his vehicle during a rollover crash in Groton last summer.
Naeem N. Clark, 20, was convicted of second-degree manslaughter, per a plea deal. He was originally also charged with felony second-degree manslaughter and operating a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs. He confirmed in court that he was under the influence of marijuana at the time of the crash.
Brianna D. Copes, 18, of McGraw, was a passenger sitting behind the driver's seat when Clark lost control of his orange Hyundai Tiburon around 3:40 a.m. on Aug. 16, 2015 in the town of Groton.
Records show that Clark was driving at least 20 mph over the 55 mph speed limit when he crossed a double yellow line on the roadway, near 328 Cortland McLean Road. The vehicle crashed into nearby shrubbery and flipped at least one time.
Copes died at the scene from blunt-force injuries to her head. Thursday would have been her 19th birthday, Assistant District Attorney Eliza Filipowski said.
"It's certainly a painful irony," Judge John Rowley said in court. "There are no good answers for cases like these."
Clark and the victim knew each other and Clark has no criminal history. He is attending Tompkins Cortland Community College and was 19 when the crash happened.
Filipowski recommended a two to six year prison term for Clark, but part of the plea deal caps Clark's sentence at one to three years in prison. The defendant as represented by attorney Seth Peacock.
Clark was mostly silent during the proceeding but briefly noted that there was minimal impairment at the time of the crash.
In a crowd of nearly 20 people in court -- supporters of Clark and Copes -- many people cried during the proceedings.
"It is a strong recognition that your past has been good. We hope your future will be good," Rowley said, noting an investigative report on Clark.
He is scheduled to be sentenced July 22 at the Tompkins County Courthouse.