The unlicensed 17-year-old driver who fatally struck 4-year-old Ariel Russo on the Upper West Side last June liked to brag about his proclivity to speed. The Times reports that Franklin Reyes told friends on Facebook and in text messages that he could cut a four-hour drive in half by traveling 90 mph.
Reyes appeared in court yesterday while a judge determines whether or not to tried as a youthful offender or as an adult. Assistant DA Vera Varshavsky argued that Reyes ignored warnings to be more careful, and relished driving recklessly. "He has done this before," she told the judge.
Police say they pulled over Reyes for making a dangerous turn at West 89th Street early on the morning of June 5th, and he sped off, forcing officers to give chase. Reyes turned onto Amsterdam Avenue and jumped the curb near 97th Street, striking Russo and her grandmother, who was walking her granddaughter to preschool. Russo's family is currently suing the City for $40 million, claiming that EMS was delayed by a faulty 911 system and that the police shouldn't have chased him in the first place.
Reyes' attorney, Martin Schmukler, has blamed Russo's death on a pothole or an open manhole, stating that a deployed airbag sent his client careening onto the sidewalk: “You can see a whole series of holes. If the vehicle hit a pothole that would explain how it went out of control.”
Reyes only had a learner's permit at the time of the fatal crash. Schmukler told the judge yesterday that Reyes' statements on social media had no bearing on the case. “What do you think Facebook is between kids? It’s just childish gossip. Why that should determine the outcome of a criminal case is beyond me.”
The judge will recommend a plea deal on June 25th. If Reyes doesn't accept, his case will go to trial.