Law catches up with driver in '01 fatality

Sebastian Barba at the Nassau County Jail in Sebastian Barba at the Nassau County Jail in East Meadow. (Jan. 16, 2013) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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The moment Sebastian Barba saw immigration officials board his plane in November as it sat on the tarmac at a Panama airport, he knew a mistake he made on a Westbury street more than a decade before had caught up with him.

"I've always thought that someday it was going to come back," he said of the day he ran over and killed a Westbury woman -- on Feb. 6, 2001. "In life, you always pay."

It is 12 years this week since Barba's Cadillac struck 80-year-old Jean Renison in a crosswalk. In November he was arrested and charged with depraved indifference murder.

The Cadillac knocked Renison to the ground, both Barba and prosecutors say. Barba remembers stopping his Cadillac briefly before driving away. Prosecutors said the young stockbroker-in-training drove over Renison, crushing her skull and chest underneath his tires.

Barba then fled to Ecuador, where he has dual citizenship. Featured on the television show "America's Most Wanted" before he was caught by Interpol, he now faces a maximum of 25 years to life in prison. He is due back in court Feb. 25.


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Leaving scene 'mystifying'

Barba's decision to flee mystifies Renison's niece, who said she gets physically ill at the thought of how the retired schoolteacher and World War II intelligence officer died.

"Had he stopped the car, she wouldn't have been killed," said Maura Beede, of Yardley, Pa. "If I hit a dog, I would stop. I can't imagine hitting and killing a human being and then going on with my life as though nothing ever happened."

Beede said her aunt, who never married and had no children, was like a second mother to her. Renison was a schoolteacher and a librarian who exposed her nieces and nephews to things that their own parents were often too busy to spend time on: restaurants and museums in Manhattan and the world of books.

"Any time I think of what she must have experienced in her last moments, I just go nuts," Beede said.

Barba, now 35, says he will fight the charges against him and hopes somehow to resume his life with his wife, Denisse, and their three children, Camila, 8, Mathias, 7, and Sophia, 2, in the seaside town of Guayaquil, Ecuador.

But he also says that being captured and imprisoned is a "relief" after more than a decade spent looking over his shoulder.

"I feel a lot of remorse to this day," he said in a recent interview at the Nassau County Jail with his lawyer, Jonathan Marks, of Manhattan. "I don't think this is something I will ever be able to get out of my mind."

Prosecutors say Barba was taking a left onto Post Avenue from Maple Avenue about 10 a.m. on Feb. 6, 2001, when he hit Renison. She was crossing the street in the crosswalk to go to the hairdresser, her brother said at the time.