Family of Ariel Russo to File $40 Million Suit Against City, Lawyer Says

By Ben Fractenberg on June 12, 2013 1:17pm | Updated on June 12, 2013 5:02pm

UPPER WEST SIDE — The family of a 4-year-old girl killed after being run over by a man allegedly fleeing police on the Upper West Side is planning to sue the city for $40 million, according to two notices of claim filed Wednesday.

Ariel Russo's parents allege emergency responders were slow getting to their little girl because of glitches in the city's new 911 system and human error.

"Please let's not let another person wait too long for medical help," said the girl's grieving mother, Sofia Russo, during a press conference at her lawyer Sanford Rubenstein's office Wednesday.

Russo, who was visibly shaking at times, described Ariel as "a loving, caring little girl," who "said 'I love you' to all of us every single day."

Ariel died June 4 when an unlicensed teen driver allegedly sped away from police as they tried to stop him and crashed into Ariel and her grandmother at 97th Street and Amsterdam Avenue.

Paramedics' were delayed getting to her because a 911 operator missed the call, according to a fire department spokesman. The city's new 911 system may have also contributed to the slow response, according to a report by the Daily News.

The mistake delayed response by about four minutes, the FDNY spokesman said. Ariel was pronounced dead at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital.

Her grandmother, Katia Gutierrez, survived the accident and is in stable condition.

"We have a 911 computer glitch, according to the...head of the emergency medical workers union, and according to the fire commissioner it was human error," said Rubenstein. "So we see the fire commissioner, the head of the EMT union pointing fingers at each other. That's not what this family wants."

Franklin Reyes, 17, was driving to his last day of classes at St. Agnes Boys High School on the Upper West Side when he was pulled over by police at 89th Street and Amsterdam Avenue on suspicion of reckless driving.

When police got out of their vehicle to approach Reyes, he took off up Amsterdam Avenue, police said. Officers gave chase.

Reyes tried to make a left turn onto 97th Street, where he struck Ariel and her grandmother, police said.

He was charged with second degree manslaughter and unlawfully fleeing a police officer.

Ariel's family is seeking $20 million for the death of the girl and $20 million for injuries to 55-year-old Gutierrez, who sustained a fractured vertebra and multiple lacerations to her head, according to Rubenstein's partner, Ira Newman.

Rubenstein added that they will try to determine whether the late response influenced Ariel's death.

"At this point in time we believe this four-minute delay very well could have caused her death," he said. "We certainly will have an autopsy report when it's completed and a coroner review that to determine the influence of the delay. But there shouldn't be delays like this in the city. And this should not be happening and has to be stopped."

The suits, which Rubenstein said will be filed in New York County Supreme Court within the next couple months, will name the FDNY, NYPD, Emergency Medical Service, Franklin Reyes and the owner of the SUV Reyes was driving.

The family also blamed police for chasing Reyes with schools in the area.

"Please, no more pursuits in school zones during times when children are walking to and from school," said Russo.

Russo added that any damages awarded will be used to "honor my daughter's memory in an inspiring way" and not for personal gain.

"We need something to change in this city," she said. "No amount of money can ever take us back to our lives as it was before June 4th, but this lawsuit can force the city to be more careful and prevent this from happening again."

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