Potholes to Blame for UWS Accident That Killed Ariel Russo, Lawyer Says

By Emily Frost on November 6, 2013 12:45pm 

UPPER WEST SIDE — The lawyer for the teen who careened onto an Upper West Side sidewalk and killed a 4-year-old girl last summer argued in court Wednesday that potholes at the accident scene may have been to blame for the deadly crash.

On June 4, Franklin Reyes, 17, drove his SUV onto the sidewalk at West 97th Street and Amsterdam Avenue while fleeing police, killing 4-year-old Ariel Russo and injuring her grandmother, Katia Gutierrez, 58, who was walking her to preschool.

Reyes, who had been driving without a license, sped up to escape police who had signaled for him to stop.

“If the vehicle went over a pothole it would explain how it got out of control,” said Reyes' defense attorney Martin Schmukler.

Schmukler told Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Gregory Carro he had requested documents from the DA’s office showing whether pothole repairs at the northwest corner of the intersection had been made.

Schmukler said it looked like the repairs had been made after the accident because there were now “seams where corrections had been made.”

“You either get them or you don’t,” said Carro of the lawyer's request for the documents, adding he was eager to set a trial date and that Schmukler could subpoena for the street repair records before the next court date on Dec. 18.

Reyes told Schmukler that it felt as though he lost control of the car because of interference from the road, the attorney said after the hearing.

The teen is charged with manslaughter, assault, driving without a license, leaving the scene of the accident and fleeing police. Prosecutors are seeking a maximum prison sentence of 5-to-15 years, according to a spokeswoman in the District Attorney's office. 

“I’m not in favor of putting teens in jail,” said Schmukler, adding that the prosecution hasn’t “come down from the clouds” in the sentencing they are seeking. 

Reyes, dressed in a black suit and gray pattered tie, kept his head down and eyes lowered during Wednesday while appearing on the verge of tears.

Russo’s family, including her parents Sofia and Alan, sat quietly in the third row. They’ve vowed to attend every court date and are asking for the maximum sentence for Reyes.

In September, Community Board 7 approved a secondary street sign commemorating the toddler at the corner of West 97th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. 

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