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4-Year-Old Girl Fatally Struck By SUV On Upper West Side; Teen Driver Charged

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- A 17-year-old boy was charged after his sport-utility vehicle crashed into a grandmother and a little girl on the Upper West Side on Tuesday morning, killing the child and leaving the woman seriously hurt.

As CBS 2's John Slattery reported, Franklin Reyes of Manhattan was charged with manslaughter and vehicular manslaughter in connection with the crash that killed Ariel Russo and sent her grandmother to the hospital.

Paolo Russo, Ariel's paternal grandfather, said the child was being walked to school when the accident happened around 8:20 a.m. at 97th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. The driver lost control of the Nissan SUV while making a left turn, police said.

Ariel Russo
Ariel Russo (Handout)

The SUV jumped the curb and struck Russo and her 58-year-old grandmother, pinning them against the gate of a closed restaurant, 1010 WINS' Carol D'Auria reported.

As WCBS 880's Peter Haskell reported, flowers, prayer candles and teddy bears marked the spot where Russo was struck and killed. Local leaders and community members also held a moment of silence at the scene Tuesday night to mourn the loss of the little girl.

The girl was in pre-kindergarten at Holy Name School across the street.

"Her teacher is heartbroken and yet very, very courageous," associate Pastor Larry Ford told Haskell.

4-Year-Old Girl Fatally Struck By SUV On Upper West Side; Teen Driver Charged

Grief counselors were brought in for students.

"But we want to let them know that their sadness is an appropriate feeling," Ford said.

One mother who sends her kids to a nearby school said the busy intersection in a residential area was a recipe for disaster.

"I'm shaking as we speak. I'm holding my kids and just don't want to let them go ever," Patricia Frisbie told Haskell.

4-Year-Old Girl Struck By SUV On Upper West Side Dies

After striking the little girl and her grandmother, the driver then tried to go into reverse and backed up into a parked car, police said.

Pedestrians Struck On Upper West Side
Pedestrians struck on Upper West Side (credit: Alex Silverman/WCBS 880)

Police said it all started a few minutes earlier, 11 blocks away at 87th Street and Columbus Avenue, where police stopped the vehicle for reckless driving. A maintenance man said he witnessed it.

"He did an illegal maneuver, so they stopped him right here," said bystander John Rivera. "And the NYPD got out of the car. Once the NYPD got out of the car to go check him to see what was going on, he just sped off."

Rivera said police turned on lights, then sirens, and were in close pursuit until the driver slammed into the closed Ozen Asian fusion restaurant at 97th Street – taking Ariel and her grandmother down in the process.

"The cops stopped in front of him and pulled him out of the car," said witness Tiffany Robinson. A crossing guard also witnessed the collision, but would not talk about it.

Witnesses said they could not believe the tragedy.

"Horrible. You can see by my face -- very distressed," said Jennifer DeJesus. "I have 4-year-old and 6-year-old. I'm heartbroken if it happened to me."

Some area residents wondered about the wisdom in chasing the SUV for a traffic infraction.

"I don't know even understand why there has to be a high-speed chase in the city, when there are people walking around," said Dana Costakos.

CBS 2 was on the scene outside St. Luke's Hospital when the grandmother was admitted. She was listed in stable condition, police said.

Reyes has a long arrest record in Nassau County that includes armed robbery, D'Auria reported.

An attorney for Reyes said the tragedy was an accident, adding his client only had a learner's permit, CBS 2's Alice Gainer reported Tuesday night.

"He shouldn't have been driving," the attorney said.

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