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Board Backs Naming of UWS Corner for Crash Victim Ariel Russo

By Emily Frost | September 25, 2013 9:21am
 The board approved the secondary naming of West 97th Street and Amsterdam Avenue as Ariel Russo Street. 
Ariel Russo Secondary Street Name Approved by CB7
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UPPER WEST SIDE — After hearing an emotional plea by her parents, Community Board 7's transportation committee voted unanimously to support a plan to rename an Upper West Side street corner after the 4-year-old who was killed there this summer by a teen driver.

Alan and Sofia Russo, parents of Ariel Russo, asked local leaders Tuesday night to back the addition of a street sign in the child's honor at the Upper West Side corner where she was struck.

Russo died June 4 after she was hit by an SUV driven by 17-year-old Franklin Reyes, who panicked and careened onto the sidewalk at West 97th Street and Amsterdam Avenue while being chased by police. 

Saying she was reaching out "as a grieving mother," Sofia Russo described her daughter as "an Upper West Side girl" who attended preschool in the neighborhood, went to Symphony Space every Saturday and got her first shoes at Harry's Shoes.

A sign posted at the northeast corner of Amsterdam Avenue and West 97th Street would help keep the child's memory alive, her mother said, struggling to remain composed as her husband silently wept.

"This sign will give [this family] some solace in the hope that it might prevent these tragedies from happening to anyone else," she said, adding that she hoped passersby would look up Russo's name, learn about the tragedy and "change the way they drive."

The board's transportation committee supported the designation, which is ultimately subject to City Council approval, with many wiping tears from their eyes as they listened to Sofia Russo speak. 

She then thanked her neighbors.

"When this first happened, the Upper West Side community was there for my husband and I. This community literally let us lean on them," she told a packed crowd, saying she grew up in the neighborhood and was pursuing a degree at Bank Street College in leadership in education.

Board member Ken Coughlin suggested Ariel's age be added to the sign. Most members refrained from commenting, while many in the audience audibly sniffled as Russo spoke, asking each other for tissues and applauding the couple's appeal to the board. 

The Russos have demanded that Reyes be punished to the full extent of the law. He is currently free on bail and is charged with second-degree manslaughter and unlawfully fleeing a police officer.

Earlier Tuesday, prosecutors recommended that Reyes plead guilty to manslaughter and assault charges that would bring a maximum sentence of 5 to 15 years in prison, the New York Post reported.