NEW YORK CITY — The family of the 4-year-old girl who was fatally struck by an allegedly unlicensed driver who was fleeing cops on the Upper West Side earlier this month came face to face with the teenage suspect during a court appearance Wednesday.
Franklin Reyes, 17, who was driving with a learner's permit when his vehicle struck and killed Ariel Russo, was charged with second-degree murder in Manhattan Criminal Court.
Ariel's grandmother, Katia Gutierrez, was seriously injured in the incident. She has had surgeries on her arm and leg and was still in the hospital, family attorneys said.
It was the first time Reyes and the Russo family came together in the same room.
“Today I faced the person that killed my four-year-old daughter,” said Sofia Russo, the girl's mother and Gutierrez's daughter. "I need justice for Ariel."
Reyes, who appeared on the verge of tears as he sat boucing nervously in a brown short-sleeved jump suit, hanging his head and rubbing his eyes, pleaded not guilty before Supreme Court Justice Gregory Carro.
Martin Schmukler, Reyes' attorney, also requested “that [Reyes] not be sent back to Nassau County,” saying “he has been subjected to official abuse there.”
Carro said he was surprised by this news and agreed that, “certainly the city’s Department of Correction should be able to house this defendant.”
Schmukler asked for “a reasonable and sensible bond,” for his client and was given until June 27th to arrange a bail package.
Assistant District Attorney Scott Leet agreed to these terms.
The court room was packed with members of both the Reyes’ family, who cried openly and tried desperately to catch Reyes’ attention by waving at him, and the parents and extended family of Ariel Russo, some of whom began weeping quietly.
Sofia Russo — dressed in a black blazer and dress with black stockings and shoes, was flanked by her attorneys — said she would be present for every court date.
She wanted to “to set an example for all young people… that if you run from police there will be consequences.”
Russo, who has a $4 million suit against the city for the four minute 911 call delay the morning of her daughter’s death, is asking the DA’s office to launch a criminal investigation into the perceived mistakes made by the 911 dispatcher and with the city’s system.
“I don’t want this to happen again," she said. "As Ariel’s mother, I demand clarity and justice.”
One of Russo's lawyers, Scott Rynecki, said the family plans to attend a City Council hearing Friday that will address the 911 system.