MINEOLA, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Emotions ran high in court Tuesday as two drivers were sentenced for mowing down a young, newly engaged couple.
Yisroel Levin, 21, and Elisheva Kaplan, 20, perished in a crash just days after announcing their wedding plans.
The newly engaged couple was leaving a Passover celebration in April of 2018 when their vehicle exploded on the Nassau Expressway in Inwood after being rammed by cars driven by Rahmel Watkins and Zakiyyah Steward.
Watkins and Steward had been racing, speeding up to 100 mph at 2 a.m., bound for a Queens casino.
“Today’s sentencing closes a horrific chapter, but for the families standing behind me, this will be a lifelong sentence,” Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said.
Steps from the courtroom, their parents held one another and wept without their beloved children, buried before they had a fair chance at living their promising lives.
“This is a very solemn day, solemn because our Elisheva and Yisroel cannot be brought back to life,” Kaplan’s father, Joel Kaplan, said.
“When they walked into a room, the room lit up. It was something magnetic and charismatic about them,” Levin’s mother, Libbe Levin, said.
“If you lose a parent, you’re an orphan. If you lose a spouse, you’re widowed. What do you call if you lose a child?” Elisheva’s mother, Leah Kaplan, said.
Steward took a plea deal of 3-9 years in prison.
Watkins, a career criminal with a violent past, went to trial and was found guilty, but he did not receive the maximum sentence.
“I’d like to speak on behalf of my deceased son Yisroel and my deceased daughter Elisheva. We appeal to the judge for 25 years to life. He chose instead to only give 18, compassion to the criminal,” Levin’s father, Samuel Levin, said.
The judge read letters from the convict about his lack of family structure, being raised on the streets, and being in and out of constant trouble.
“We hope that both Mr. Watkins and Ms. Steward could turn their lives around. The biggest beneficiary of that would be themselves,” Joel Kaplan said.
Hope for rehabilitation in prison, they said, as grieving families pray for strength to go forward.
Both defendants apologized to the victims’ families.