Defense For NYC Teen Who Ran Over 4-Year-Old Ariel Russo During Police Chase Blames Potholes

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht

The defense attorney for a Manhattan teen being charged with the manslaughter of 4-year-old Ariel Russo while he was fleeing from police said the potholes could be to blame.

Franklin Reyes, 17, is accused of hitting Russo on the Upper West Side while driving his parents’ SUV without a license on June 4. When a cop tried to pull him over for a wide turn, Reyes fled, went over a curb on W 97th Street and Amsterdam Avenue hitting Russo.

His attorney, Martin Schmuckler, told Manhattan Supreme Court on Wednesday that Reyes was attempting to drive to school when he lost control of the car due to potholes.

“You can see a whole series of holes,” said Schmukler. “If the vehicle went over a pothole it would explain how it went out of control.”

This isn’t the first time Schmukler has placed the blame on someone other than the driver. During Reyes' arraignment, Schmukler said Russo would still be alive if the NYPD hadn’t chased his client.

“[My client] doesn’t blame the police officers for chasing him, even though they didn’t have to chase him,” he said. “Needless to say, it wouldn’t have happened if they hadn’t been there.”

Russo had been walking to preschool with her 58-year-old grandmother, Katia Gutierrez, when she was killed. Gutierrez was also injured. She appeared in court in a wheelchair and continues extensive physical therapy after the crash.

Schmukler asked Justice Gregory Carro for a delay while he obtains a repair report for the street. He said there are recently filled holes at the scene of the incident.

“I’m frustrated that he’s trying to blame a pothole saying that because there was a pothole he hit my mom and my daughter,” Ariel’s mother Sofia Russo told The Post. “He hit them because he was fleeing police.”

Charged with manslaughter, unlawfully fleeing a police officer, leaving the scene of an incident and unlicensed driving, Reyes is currently out on $25,000 bail.

Prosecutors previously recommended a maximum sentence for Reyes of five to 15 years, but Schmukler rejected that offer.

Sources: New York Daily News, New York Post