NEWARK, N.J. — A New Jersey man charged in the hit-and-run death of a 5-year-old girl last week has pleaded not guilty.

Essex County prosecutors say 24-year-old Saleem Wright of Irvington was speeding when his Mercedes-Benz convertible struck 5-year-old Julianne Vega on Thursday night, just steps from her Newark home. She was taken to University Hospital in Newark, but died there a short time later.

Julianne celebrated her kindergarten graduation just a month ago. Her mother is still trying to come to grips with the tragic loss of that life.

“We really don’t know,” mother Jackmary De’Leon said. “I was working.”

Wright turned himself in Friday at a local church, a short time after his car was found abandoned in Newark. He was charged with death by auto, leaving the scene of a fatal accident and endangering an injured victim.

Wright entered his pleas Wednesday during a brief court appearance.

He was being held in the county jail on $150,000 bail.

(© 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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