Yesterday morning, a little girl walking to pre-school was fatally struck by a 17-year-old driver who was fleeing the police. The teen, Franklin Reyes, who was driving to St. Agnes Boys High School, only has his learner's permit and didn't have permission to drive his family's SUV. He is now charged with manslaughter and vehicular manslaughter.
Reyes had been pulled over for reckless driving on West 89th Street. According to the Wall Street Journal, "The officers had observed the driver making a dangerous turn, crossing over several lanes of traffic, police said. They were approaching his vehicle from both sides when he suddenly sped off and made a turn onto Amsterdam Avenue, heading north, they said."
With police following him, Reyes then headed up Amsterdam, jumping the curb at West 97th Street, striking Ariel Russo, 4, and her 58-year-old grandmother, Katia Gutierrez. The girl and grandmother were pinned against a restaurant; the Post reports, "He then backed up and hit a parked car, cops said, and was arrested at the scene." Other pedestrians rushed to the pair. Steve Davis said, "When I felt [Ariel's] pulse, I had a little bit of hope. About a minute after I got there, she let out like a big breath ... She was motionless.”
Ariel died at St. Luke's Hospital, where Gutierrez is in stable condition. Reyes only has a learner's permit—not an actual driver's license. The Daily News reports, "Investigators believe he panicked after cops found him driving alone. Drugs and alcohol didn’t play a role in the accident, police said." One of his neighbors said, "I guess he was just scared... He’s a good kid. I think it’s an accident." His lawyer also said, “It’s one of these tragic situations. It’s purely an accident. He shouldn’t have been driving — simple as that."
The WSJ also has more about whether a chase was appropriate:
The official said there was "nothing to suggest" that the officers who pursued him didn't follow protocol while pursuing him. The official said it took only 23 seconds from the time the suspect fled the officers to when he crashed.
When to abandon chasing a suspect is an issue police officials nationwide have grappled with for decades. Many departments have adopted conservative policies that call for officers to ditch the pursuit when there is any danger to the officer or the general public, said Maria Haberfeld, a professor of police science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
A spokesman for the NYPD said the department adheres to a protocol that calls for a pursuit to be terminated if the risk to the officers or the general public is greater than allowing the suspect to flee.
Ariel attended Church of Holy Name's school, where administrators called in grief counselors for children. An associate pastor said, “We want to let them know that their sadness is an appropriate feeling." And a parent in the neighborhood told WCBS 2 that the intersection was too busy, "I’m shaking as we speak. I’m holding my kids and just don’t want to let them go ever."