18 Years to Life for Defendant in Fatal Crash of Yisroel Levin and Elisheva Kaplan

NEW YORK -

The man who caused the crash that killed engaged couple Yisroel Levin and Elisheva Kaplan last year was sentenced Tuesday to 18 years to life in prison.

Rahmel Watkins was convicted in September of criminally negligent homicide; second-degree assault; second-degree reckless endangerment; and reckless driving. He was acquitted of the most serious charge, second-degree manslaughter.

According to prosecutors, Watkins was part of a group of cars traveling in the northbound lanes of the Nassau Expressway in Inwood, from Far Rockaway to a Queens casino, at 1:40 a.m. on April 4, 2018, Chol Hamoed Pesach. Watkins was driving recklessly and more than double the speed limit when his car crossed over the double yellow lines and struck, head-on, a vehicle being driven by Levin, 21, with Kaplan, 20, in the passenger seat. Their vehicle burst into flames.

Watkins then struck a different car, fracturing that driver’s spine and injuring his hand, ankle and knee.

Another defendant in the case, Zakiyyah Steward, was driving another car, next to Watkins’, at a high rate of speed and while intoxicated and impaired by marijuana. Her vehicle also struck the car carrying the couple.

Watkins and Steward suffered minor injuries in the crash.

Steward pleaded guilty to the full indictment, including multiple charges of manslaughter, assault, vehicular manslaughter, aggravated vehicular homicide, reckless driving and reckless endangerment. She was sentenced to three to nine years in prison.

Watkins, as a repeat violent felony offender, was sentenced to 18 years to life.

Elisheva’s father, Joel Kaplan, cried in court as he delivered a victim impact statement, ABC 7 reported.

“We’re all at a great loss because they’re not in this world,” he said afterward.

Following the sentencing, Yisroel’s father, Samuel Levin, said he was disappointed that Judge Fran Ricigliano did not give Watkins the maximum.

“The judge had the opportunity to do the right thing and to give 25 years,” said Levin. “He chose instead to only give 18. Compassion to the criminal. Where was the compassion to Yisroel and Elisheva?”

rborchardt@hamodia.com