BETHPAGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A wake is being held Wednesday for a Long Island teenager with Down syndrome who police said was struck and killed in an alleged hit-and-run crash while crossing Hempstead Turnpike in Levittown.
The mother of 13-year-old Bryanna Soplin is distraught and heartbroken as she prepares for her daughter’s funeral.
“I just want my baby back,” said Jennifer Curuchaga.
Curuchaga said Bryanna had been tucked into bed when she was discovered missing just after midnight Sunday.
“I looked – she wasn’t there,” Curuchaga said.
Her parents said Bryanna likely went out a back door and was trying to walk to her grandparents house nearly two miles away when she was hit. The girl was taken to a hospital, where she died hours later, police said.
Michael Elardo, 48, was arrested in connection with the crash after he surrendered to police on Monday, authorities said.
Elardo, who is a retired, disabled and decorated 13-year veteran of the NYPD, was charged with leaving the scene of an accident, police said. Bail was set at $1 million during his arraignment on Tuesday.
Police said Elardo fled the scene after he blew a red light and hit Bryanna, but his attorney said Elardo ” didn’t believe he hit anybody.”
“This is one of the most dangerous intersections in the United States. What he believed he hit was one of those construction cones,” attorney Michael DerGarabedian said.
Elardo, a single father of four, claims he received an emergency phone call from one of his children seconds before the crash. The call was cut off and Elardo said he looked back and decided to rush home when he didn’t see anything.
Elardo’s children and other relatives came to show their support for him in court on Tuesday.
“He’s always done everything right, he always is there to help everyone,” his uncle Robert Nicholetti said. “This is just a horrible accident.”
Bryanna’s mother finds Elardo’s explanation hard to believe and says it’s no excuse.
“If it was a piece of garbage, an animal, a dog, a person, you should have stopped,” Curuchaga said. “You don’t just keep going.”
The cause of the crash remains under investigation. Elardo faces up to five years in prison if convicted.
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