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Hit-and-Run Kills 12-Year-Old Girl and Critically Injures Family, NYPD Says

By  Murray Weiss and Aidan Gardiner | July 3, 2014 8:50am 

 Robert DeCarlo, 26, crashed a stolen minivan into a woman and her two daughters before fleeing on foot, police said.
Robert DeCarlo, 26, crashed a stolen minivan into a woman and her two daughters before fleeing on foot, police said.
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BROOKLYN — The accused hit-and-run driver who police said stuck and killed a 12-year-old girl and injured her mom and sister was picked up on a city street after detectives identified him from his nickname — "De Niro."

Robert DeCarlo, 26, was grabbed Thursday afternoon on Kings Highway less than 24 hours after he slammed a stolen Dodge Caravan minivan into Joie Sellers, her 9-year-old sister and her mom at a northern corner of Flatlands Avenue at East 46th Street about 4:45 p.m., the NYPD said.

The van jumped the curb, careened into another vehicle and came to halt on top of a fire hydrant before DeCarlo jumped out and fled.

The trio was pinned under the Dodge until good Samaritans raced over and hoisted it off of them, police said.

The 38-year-old mother and her daughters were taken to Kings County Hospital, where Joie was pronounced dead, according to the NYPD. Her mother and sister, whose names were not released, remain in critical condition, police said.

None of the witnesses or residents in the area could provide clues to the identity of the hit-and-run drivers.

Detectives traced the stolen Dodge to an auto-body shop on McDonald Avenue in a neighboring precinct, where they scoured hours of video until they discovered a snippet that showed a man  getting into the stolen Dodge.

Grainy images of the suspect were then shown to people in the neighborhood until someone said they recognized him, but knew him only by his nickname "De Niro" because he resembled a young Robert De Niro, the fabled star of "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull."

His nickname was quickly run through a database at police headquarters that holds nicknames of previously convicted criminals.  The names of several ex-cons, including Decarlo's, popped up with the name "De Niro." 

Detectives returned to the scene of the crime and showed his photo to various eyewitnesses, who identified him as the hit-and-run driver, sources said.

Investigators in Brooklyn spotted him walking on the street and took him to the 62nd Precinct, where he was being questioned last Thursday afternoon.

DeCarlo, who has been arrested at least twice this year, lives on Avenue U in Gravesend and is believed to be a drug abuser.

He was also arrested for drug possession on Jan. 24 and given a desk appearance ticket, court records show.

Two months later on March 21, he was charged with assault and theft of credit cards, records show. An order of protection was issued against him and he was released, records show.

He was arrested again on May 23, 2013 on charges of robbing an elderly woman and was released two days later without bail.

It was not immediately clear why he was not held. The case is still pending.