Two people accused in the tragic deaths of chassan Yisroel Levin, z”l, and his kallah Elisheva Kaplan, a”h, on Chol Hamoed Pesach, were arraigned Wednesday in Nassau County, District Attorney Madeline Singas announced.
The prosecution alleges that at 1:40 a.m. on April 4, defendants Rahmel Watkins, 35, and Zakiyyah Steward, 25, both of Brooklyn, were part of a group of cars traveling in the northbound lanes of the Nassau Expressway in Inwood, headed from Far Rockaway to a Queens casino.
Watkins was allegedly operating a BMW 550 GT recklessly and at a high rate of speed when his car crossed over the double yellow lines and struck, head-on, a Nissan Altima being driven by Levin, 21, with Kaplan, 20, in the passenger seat. The Altima burst into flames.
Watkins then struck an Infiniti being driven by James Hamilton, fracturing his spine and injuring his ankle and knee.
At the same time, Steward was allegedly driving a Hyundai Genesis next to Watkins. Steward was speeding and under the influence of illegal substances. Steward’s vehicle also struck the Altima.
Watkins and Steward suffered minor injuries.
Steward was arraigned before Judge Francis Ricigliano on multiple felonies and misdemeanors, including aggravated vehicular homicide, manslaughter, assault, vehicular manslaughter, reckless endangerment, driving while under the influence of alcohol and drugs, and reckless driving.
Watkins was also arraigned before Judge Ricigliano, on multiple felonies and misdemeanors including manslaughter, assault, reckless endangerment and reckless driving.
Bail was set for Watkins at $1 million bond or $500,000 cash, and for Steward at $500,000 bond or $250,000 cash. The defendants are due back in court July 18. If convicted of the top counts, Steward faces 8-1/3 to 25 years in prison and Watkins faces five to 15 years.
“This indictment alleges that Yisroel and Elisheva’s lives were stolen, just as their lives were about to begin as a married couple, by the defendants who recklessly drove too fast in bad weather and while one of them was intoxicated,” said DA Singas. “Nassau County will not tolerate this kind of unconscionable disregard for life. My heart goes out to the Levin and Kaplan families.”
An attorney for Watkins did not immediately respond to Hamodia’s request for comment. Steward’s attorney was not immediately available for comment.
Steward has a history of burglary offenses, and was twice steered into a court-mandated alternative to incarceration program by Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Matthew Sciarrino, the Daily News previously reported. She was kicked out of the program for poor attendance and drug and alcohol use, according to Brooklyn Assistant District Attorney Robert Zweibel.
Following the fatal accident, Judge Sciarrino expressed regret. “We were unsuccessful getting her the treatment she needs as it was detailed in these reports,” Sciarrino said. “I’ll take the blame for giving her too many chances.”