Teen pleads not guilty to charges linked to fatal crash

Kayla Gerdes arrives at the Nassau courthouse in

Kayla Gerdes arrives at the Nassau courthouse in Mineola to face more charges in a fatal crash in Hempstead. (June 15, 2010) (Credit: Howard Schnapp )

A Freeport teenager who police say was high on drugs when the van she was driving struck and killed a Hempstead woman mowing her front lawn pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a long list of upgraded charges, including operating a motor vehicle while under the combined use of drugs, possession of a controlled substance, reckless endangerment and forgery.

Kayla Gerdes, 18, of Freeport, previously pleaded not guilty to second-degree manslaughter, second-degree vehicular manslaughter and other charges in the April 20 crash that killed Rebecca Twine, 69, in front of her Cathedral Drive home.

Nassau County Court Judge John Kase raised Gerdes' cash bail from $100,000 to $200,000; her bond stayed at $200,000. If convicted, Gerdes faces up to 59 years in prison, according to the Nassau County district attorney's office.

Twine's daughter and son attended the arraignment and declined to comment.

Afterward, Tara Oetjen-Gerdes of Freeport, Gerdes' mother, called her daughter a "troubled girl" but said of the family, "We love her. We support her." Oetjen-Gerdes said she feels "very sad" for Twine's family.

Authorities have said Gerdes admitted to police that she had been high on Xanax and oxycodone, and that she had drugs with her at the time of the accident.

Gerdes' lawyer, John R. Lewis Jr. of Farmingdale, said then that she had been struggling with drug addiction and had been in a 28-day rehabilitation program, but had to leave when insurance coverage ran out.

In a related case, Gerdes' boyfriend, who police say let Gerdes drive his van that day, has suffered a breakdown and was hospitalized, his lawyer said.

Brian Steele, 29, of Oceanside, had been expected to voluntarily surrender Tuesday to be arraigned on a grand jury indictment in connection with the crash. But Michael DerGarabedian, of Rockville Centre, said his client was in a mental hospital and could not appear.

Steele, who prosecutors said was a passenger in the van, originally was not charged in the case. The indictment to be unsealed Tuesday was expected to charge him with criminally negligent homicide, DerGarabedian said.

Steele had been arrested June 3 in a separate incident and charged with driving under the influence of prescription drugs and drug possession, according to the DA.

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