Judge Calls Crash that Killed Ariel Russo a 'Mistake' Before Granting Bail
By Pedro Oliveira Jr on June 27, 2013 12:37pm
MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — The teenage driver accused of fatally striking 4-year-old Ariel Russo while fleeing from cops on the Upper West Side was granted $25,000 bail Thursday after being held for more than three weeks on Rikers — angering prosecutors and the victim's family.
Franklin Reyes, 17, a junior at St. Agnes Boys High School on the Upper West Side, stood silently, his hands cuffed behind his back, as Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Gregory Carro announced he was granting bail, calling the crash "one big tragic mistake."
Reyes' mother dropped to her knees on the courtroom floor, praying in Spanish and whispering "Jesus" after the decision.
But Ariel's father blasted the move.
"My daughter is dead and this guy is free,” Alan Russo told reporters outside the courthouse. “He’s going to have the summer — he’s going to play video games, he’s going to eat his mom’s home-cooked food and I’m never going to have my daughter back.
“All they’ve got to do is come up with 25 grand and he walks,” he added. “It’s not fair.”
Reyes had initially been ordered held without bail after the June 4 crash that left Ariel dead and put grandmother, Katia Gutierrez, in the hospital.
The suspect was accused of plowing into Ariel just steps from her Upper West Side school, on 97th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, while trying to evade cops who’d spotted him illegally crossing several lanes to make a turn.
He faces charges of manslaughter, assault and fleeing police, among other charges, and is looking at up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
Reyes, who was behind the wheel of a borrowed SUV on his way to the last day of school, allegedly told cops he "panicked" and fled after cops stopped him for an illegal turn because he only had his learner's permit.
“He was doing at least the right thing going to school, prior to one big tragic mistake,” Carro told the courtroom Thursday. “Should he be convicted, he’s going to pay for it.”
Some 20 of Reyes’ friends and family members showed up to support him in court and defense attorney Martin Schmukler told DNAinfo New York that the family was prepared to post the $25,000 cash bail.
Prosecutors and Ariel's relatives were stunned by the decision.
The girl's distraught mother, Sofia Russo, collapsed in tears after finding out her daughter’s alleged killer would be free while fighting second-degree manslaughter charges.
“I just want to go home,” the 26-year-old woman wailed, surrounded by family members. “I feel like I’m going to pass out. My legs feel so weak.”
Prosecutor Scott Leet had pressed Carro to deny Reyes' bail request based on the teen's alleged attempts to evade police after officers tried to pull him over.
“We don’t have much to look at … in terms of what his future actions are going to be,” Leet argued Thursday. “But what we do know based on the actions that we are aware of is that this defendant, when faced with difficult consequences, flees.”
FDNY officials said paramedics were delayed in getting to the scene because a 911 operator missed the call.
The girl’s family is suing the city for $40 million, claiming the operator’s fumble played a role in Ariel’s death.