New York – Two and a half months after the horrific crash that took the lives of a newly Jewish engaged couple on the Nassau Expressway, the two drivers who caused the collision were arraigned today at the Nassau County Courthouse in Mineola.
35 year old Rahmel Watkins of Brooklyn was charged with two felony counts of manslaughter in the second degree and four felony counts of assault in the second degree, reckless endangerment in the second degree and reckless driving. Bail for Watkins was set at $1 million bond or $500,000 cash and if convicted of the top charges, he could face five to 15 years in prison.
25 year old Zakiyyah Steward of Brooklyn was charged with 12 felony counts, including three counts of aggravated vehicular homicide, two counts of manslaughter in the second degree and vehicular manslaughter, as well as five misdemeanor counts including reckless endangerment in the second degree and reckless driving, and three additional counts charging her with unsafe operation of a vehicle while under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
Bail for Steward was set at $500,000 bond or $250,000 cash and if convicted of the top counts, she could face 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison.
Both Watkins and Steward have prior arrest histories. The Daily News reported that at the time of the incident Watkins was out on parole for a previous felony assault, and as previously reported on VIN News, Steward had been previously jailed on theft charges and had been spared prison on two separate occasions by a lenient judge.
Although Steward told police after the crash that she had been smoking marijuana all day, her father later claimed that she was being cast as the scapegoat and that the victims’ car was the one that had caused the accident.
But official documents from the Nassau County District Attorney’s office tell a different story of the crash which took place on the Nassau Expressway in Inwood at 1:40 AM on April 4th. Watkins was allegedly speeding and driving recklessly when his 2010 BMW 550i GT crossed the center double yellow line, hitting a 2017 Nissan Altima driven by 21 year old Yisroel Levin head on.
The Altima burst into flames on impact and was struck a second time by a speeding 2016 Hyundai Genesis that was driving alongside Watkins’ car and was operated by Steward, who was reportedly drunk and under the influence of marijuana.
The impact pushed the Altima backwards 200 feet before it finally came to a stop, with Levin and his fiancé, 20 year old Elisheva Kaplan, trapped inside the still burning vehicle.
The driver of a fourth car involved in the collision, a Silver Infiniti, sustained a fractured spine and injuries to his ankle and knee, with both Watkins and Steward suffering minor injuries.
Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas blasted the defendants, who are due back in court on July 18th, for their actions.
“This indictment alleges that Yisroel and Elishiva’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 Singas. “Nassau County will not tolerate this kind of unconscionable disregard for life. My heart goes out to the Levin and Kaplan families.”
As of 2013, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulations require all information captured by vehicles’ event data recorders to be made available in case of potential investigations, but it is unclear whether the 2010 model year car driven by Watkins was equipped with that technology.
The Nassau County District Attorney’s office has been in touch with BMW to determine whether the 2010 BMW 550iGT has any on board recording devices that could confirm the speed of the vehicle before or after the crash took place and if the auto manufacturer would be willing to provide its assistance in obtaining that data, should it exist.
A spokesperson for the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office declined to say whether BMW has demonstrated any pattern of reluctance to share similar data in previous incidents.