MANHATTAN CRIMINAL COURT — The family of a 4-year-old girl fatally struck by a teenage driver in 2013 saw an end to years of reliving the horror every time they set foot in court as the teen was sentenced to up to nine years in prison Friday.
Franklin Reyes will spend between three and nine years behind bars for the June 4, 2013, crash that killed Ariel Russo and severely injured her grandmother Katia Gutierrez, as they walked on the sidewalk at the intersection of West 97th Street and Amsterdam Avenue.
Reyes, who was 17 when he got behind the wheel of an SUV without a license, had been fleeing NYPD officers at the time of the crash when he drove up onto the curb, officials and witnesses said.
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Gregory Carro said he had been willing to consider giving Reyes youthful offender treatment — which would have carried a much lighter sentence and sealed his record — because of his age, but noted his subsequent actions proved he hadn't taken the deadly crash seriously.
On Aug. 31, 2014, a little more than a year after Russo's death, Reyes was pulled over by Officer Edward O’Connell for failing to signal before making a turn at West 181st Street and Amsterdam Avenue. He was again driving without a license.
When O'Connell reached into the car, Reyes hit the gas and dragged the officer 100 feet, according to court documents.
Reyes pleaded guilty to manslaughter and unlawfully fleeing an officer after the separate incidents.
"I still cannot wrap my head around the fact that he got back in a car… and injured another individual. It's kind of a window into his soul about how he really feels," Carro said Friday.
"This is just another example of what can occur when a civilian does not submit to law enforcement’s authority. He fled law enforcement and caused a tragic death and injury twice."
Sofia Russo, Ariel's mother, testified in court that these actions showed that he was both "reckless and indifferent."
All of the sentences will run concurrently, the judge said.
Before Carro read the sentence, Reyes read a brief apology in court.
"I have hurt the Russo family in a way that will never be healed... I truly in my heart apologize to the entire Russo family," he said.
"I never meant to hurt anybody. I am extremely sorry."
Sofia Russo, who attended the proceeding with her husband Alan and many extended family members, has pushed for Reyes to face a sentence of five to 15 years in prison. She said she and her family will fight Reyes' attempt to earn parole after he serves three years.
Even the maximum time Reyes could spend in prison, nine years, is not enough, she noted.
The judgment means "we can start to heal," but his apology is "too little, too late," Sofia Russo said.
"I feel like [the apology] was just words. I have to see his actions. Is he going to be part of the cause to end traffic injuries in New York City?"
Sofia Russo is one of the founding members of an advocacy group made up of traffic crash victims' families called Familes for Safe Streets.
Sofia Russo wore a bright yellow pin with Ariel's photo and the words: "For Ariel. Not one more New Yorker killed in traffic."
With "everything I do I honor Ariel," Sofia Russo said of her advocacy. The group's latest campaign is to fight for traffic cameras near every school.
Carro changing his mind on the youthful offender status "made me feel like [the judge] was honoring Ariel, that she was there in court," Sofia Russo said.
In the end, through Reyes' repeat offenses, "he proved to everyone that he was reckless," she said. "He is going to face the consequences of his decision."