A plan by Ivan Rodriguez to make some money to get a city boot off his truck led to a thunderous car crash in Feltonville that killed three children and a young mother on June 10, a prosecutor said yesterday at a preliminary hearing.
Rodriguez, 20, and handgun-wielding accomplice Donta Cradock, 18, robbed William Sandoval of his 2007 black Yamaha motorcycle on Rising Sun Avenue near Clarkson, just before 7:30 p.m., Assistant District Attorney Jude Conroy said.
Next, the accused thieves split up, Conroy said: Rodriguez, on the bike, went toward his home on 8th Street near Lycoming, while Cradock floored a silver Pontiac belonging to Rodriguez's girlfriend toward Roosevelt Boulevard.
At 5:25 p.m., Cradock crashed that car into the sidewalk on 3rd Street near Annsbury, fatally striking the victims.
"It's pristine clear it's Ivan Rodriguez who is the impetus for the robbery," Conroy said.
After hearing from Sandoval and a handful of other witnesses, Judge David Shuter held Rodriguez and Cradock for trial on multiple counts of second-and third-degree murder, conspiracy, robbery and related offenses.
He also held Cradock - who uses the alias Craddock - on a count of homicide by vehicle but dismissed that charge against Rodriguez.
The defendants had a combined 13 prior arrests and were wanted on bench warrants at the time of the robbery and crash.
Cradock, who appeared to twitch and fidget involuntarily, sat in a wheelchair as he heard the evidence against him and Rodriguez.
During the crash, he was paralyzed from the waist down and has lost the use of his left side and part of his right, said his lawyer, Michael Farrell.
Killed were Remedy Smith, 11 months; Aaliyah Griffin, 6; Gina Marie Rosario, 7; and Remedy's mother, Latoya Smith, 22, who died the next day.
Police Officer Abraham Matos Wild, who was flagged down by motorist Katrina Sherfield, a witness to the robbery, followed Cradock on Roosevelt Boulevard and on to 3rd Street before briefly losing him.
Matos Wild, who was the first officer to arrive at the accident scene, broke down on the witness stand yesterday recalling what he saw.
"It was chaos," he said, describing smoke coming from the smashed Pontiac, throngs of people hollering, Cradock on the ground with a gun hanging from his pocket and a woman beating on him.
The woman then ran to the car and tried to lift it off of LaToya Smith, Matos Wild said.
"At that point I understood what the hollering was about . . . I saw the little mangled bodies. Then I just lost it," he said, sobbing.
"That day will never be erased from my mind."
Defense lawyer Guy Sciolla said that Rodriguez is guilty of the armed robbery but not any degree of murder because he was not at the scene of the crash.
"When Mr. Cradock turned down 3rd Street and tragically caused the deaths of these four human beings, three of whom were on the threshold of their lives, my client was not there," Sciolla argued.
"While it is clear my client is responsible for these deaths," Farrell said, malice was not involved, so he should not be tried for murder but for involuntary manslaughter or homicide by vehicle.
Prosecutor Conroy successfully argued that Rodriguez should be held for murder because he helped set in motion an unbroken chain of events.