Michael Elardo, retired NYPD officer, has bail set at $1M in hit-run death of Bryanna Soplin

Nassau County police said Michael Elardo, 48, of Syosset, surrendered Monday evening, June 16, 2014, at police headquarters in Mineola, where he was charged with leaving the scene of an accident that fatally injured 13-year-old Bryanna Soplin. Police said Bryanna, who relatives said had Down syndrome, was attempting to cross Hempstead Turnpike near Gardiners Avenue in Levittown early Sunday when she was hit. (Credit: News 12 Long Island and Jessica Rotkiewitz)

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A retired NYPD officer surrendered Tuesday to face charges that he left the scene of an accident after striking and killing a 13-year-old girl as she crossed Hempstead Turnpike in Levittown shortly after midnight Sunday.

Michael Elardo, 48, of 23 Meadow Dr., Syosset, was charged with a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison because there was a fatality, and bail was set at $1 million at his arraignment in First District Court in Hempstead.

Outside court, his attorney, Michael DerGarabedian of Rockville Centre, said his client thought he had hit a construction cone and that he contacted police 10 hours later, after hearing news reports of the incident.

"He did not believe he hit a person. There was an impact, but he did didn't believe he hit anyone," DerGarabedian said. "This is one of the most dangerous intersections in the United States."

Asked if his client was drunk at the time, he said he wasn't, adding, "He voluntarily gave his car to the police within 10 hours of the incident. He didn't think he was involved, and he wanted to rule out the possibility that he was."

Bryanna Soplin, who relatives said had Down syndrome, had wandered from home before she was struck Sunday morning as she crossed Hempstead Turnpike at Gardiners Avenue in Levittown.

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Bryanna's mother, Jennifer Curuchaga, told Newsday Tuesday that she didn't understand why the driver could not avoid hitting her daughter.

"No matter what happens to him, no matter what the judge decides, it's not going to bring my baby back," she said. "But, at least it will keep him from doing this to other people. . . . I just want a good explanation from him on why he left her there like that. I don't know if I will get that."

Det. Lt. John Azzata, commanding officer of the Nassau police homicide squad, said at a news conference at police headquarters in Mineola that Elardo turned himself in to police at 6:30 p.m. Monday.

The vehicle that police believe he was driving at the time of the crash was recovered in Nassau County within the Second Precinct on Sunday, Azzata said. The vehicle is not registered to Elardo. Azzata, who spoke before the arraignment, would not say how police gained possession of the vehicle.

The felony complaint filed in court said Bryanna was crossing Hempstead Turnpike from the southeast corner to the northeast corner when she was struck. Elardo was driving east in a 2011 Chrysler Town and Country minivan in the left lane, the complaint said. Hempstead Turnpike has three lanes in each direction at that point, plus turn lanes in the middle.

The court paper said there was "substantial damage" to the front of the vehicle on the driver's side.

Bryanna had crossed two lanes of traffic before being struck, Azzata said.

Asked whether Bryanna had the right of way, Azzata said: "I can't answer that definitively."

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Azzata said detectives had not reviewed red-light cameras at the intersection, saying they were working with the Arizona-based company that operates them.

DerGarabedian said outside court that Elardo retired from the NYPD on a disability pension in 1998. A law enforcement source in New York City confirmed that.

He is a single father of four sons -- ages 18 and 14 and twins age 16 -- and all four were in court in a show of support, the lawyer said.

He said Elardo was a graduate of Bethpage High School and attended Briarcliff College in Bethpage. Elardo coaches several local youth sports teams and is involved in other community work, the lawyer said.

Elardo is due back in court Thursday.

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With Anthony M. DeStefano and John Valenti

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