N.Y. mayor defends police in crash


NEW YORK, Aug. 7 — Amid mounting protests, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani on Tuesday said police and the district attorney are aggressively investigating an accident in which a police officer who allegedly had been drinking mowed down a pregnant woman, her 4-year-old son and her sister when he ran a red light.

“As I pointed out, I was disappointed with the judge’s decision (to release the officer from jail on his own recognizance), but that’s for no lack the district attorney and the police department being very aggressive, as they should have been,” Giuliani said.

The mayor’s comments came the morning after hundreds of people marched 25 blocks from the accident scene in Brooklyn to the police station where the officer worked to protest what they said was a double standard of justice.

“Why is this guy released? Why is he on the street?” said Victor Manuel Herrera, 40, husband, father and uncle of the victims. “Who is going to replace my wife? Who is going to give my son back? This is not justice!”

The crowd placed flowers, candles and a rosary in a cardboard box at the intersection where the accident occurred before departing on the march to the local precinct station. The crowd was occasionally rowdy, but police reported no arrests.

The officer, Joseph Gray, was released in his own custody after being charged with multiple counts of manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter and driving while intoxicated. Prosecutors had sought $500,000 bail. The victims were identified as Maria Herrera, 24; her 4-year-old son, Andy; and her 16-year-old sister, Dilcia Pena, according to police.

Herrera was eight months pregnant; a baby boy delivered by Caesarean section died Sunday. In a criminal complaint, a police detective said pedestrians had the right of way as they crossed the street to visit Maria Herrera’s mother and that Gray, a 15-year police veteran who has been suspended from the force, admitted he had been drinking before the fatal crash late Saturday, investigators said.

The light “had to have been red, thereby disallowing northbound vehicular traffic from entering the ... intersection,” James Carriddi of the accident investigations squad said in a deposition. Gray, 40, pleaded innocent to the charges. His next court date was set for Aug. 10.

The officer told an investigator he was heading to work when the accident happened, Assistant District Attorney James Lamb said. At the scene, police said, Gray took an initial test that showed his blood-alcohol level to be 0.21 percent, or twice the legal limit. He then refused to take a more sophisticated breath test, so prosecutors obtained a court order to have his blood drawn, authorities said. They were awaiting those results on Monday.

“He told an officer on the scene, ‘I was drinking, I was on my way to work, and they darted out in front of me,”’ Lamb said. Witnesses said Gray seemed shocked after the crash, repeatedly asking bystanders, “Why did they cross?” Gray’s attorney, Stephen Worth, said the officer “has indicated to us how terrible he feels for the individuals who have died and their families.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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