Ann Marie Drago arrives at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead on...

Ann Marie Drago arrives at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead on Thursday. Credit: Tom Lambui

Ann Marie Drago told a grand jury two months after she fatally struck Evelyn Rodriguez with her Nissan Rogue that she did not see the anti-gang activist in the path of the vehicle, according to testimony introduced Thursday by Suffolk prosecutors at Drago’s criminally negligent homicide trial in Riverhead. 

But prosecutors — for the second time this week — again showed the jury Thursday a disturbing one-minute video that showed Rodriguez standing in front of the SUV before she was crushed under its tires on Sept. 14, 2018 — two years to the day after Drago’s mother found the body of Kayla Cuevas, Rodriguez's daughter, in her yard. Federal prosecutors said Kayla and her friend, 15-year-old Nisa Mickens, were murdered by members of MS-13.

Drago also said during her Nov. 17, 2018, grand jury appearance that she feared for her safety during the tense confrontation with Rodriguez and her common-law husband, Freddy Cuevas, on Ray Court in Brentwood. The video shows Drago getting out of the Nissan Rogue immediately after it rolled over Rodriguez — even though Cuevas was screaming at her about 2 feet from the driver’s door.

Drago, 62, of Patchogue, is on trial in Riverhead for criminally negligent homicide, criminal mischief and petit larceny.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Ann Marie Drago told a grand jury two months after she fatally struck Evelyn Rodriguez with her Nissan Rogue that she did not see the anti-gang activist in the path of the vehicle.
  • Her testimony was introduced Thursday by Suffolk prosecutors at Drago’s criminally negligent homicide trial in Riverhead.
  • The grand jury exchange between Drago and a prosecutor was read into the record by two employees of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office. 

Prosecutors say she sparked what turned out to be a fatal confrontation with Rodriguez and Cuevas after removing items from a memorial Rodriguez had set up in advance of a vigil for her daughter later that day. This is her second trial after her previous conviction was overturned by a state appellate court. 

Prosecutors contend Drago turned the wheel in the direction of Rodriguez just as she stepped forward, knocking her down as she slammed her head on the pavement. Rodriguez suffered a fractured skull and neck after she was run over, and bruising in her brain caused her death, according to prosecutors. 

Drago’s defense attorney, Matthew Hereth of the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County, said during opening arguments on Wednesday that Drago had received a call from a real estate agent who had listed her mother’s house, which was in contract to be sold, and asked her to clean up the property. He said Drago was unaware of plans for a vigil on Ray Court.

Drago said repeatedly during her grand jury testimony that she did not know that Rodriguez had planned to hold a vigil to commemorate the second anniversary of her daughter’s death, but the unnamed grand jury prosecutor suggested she had been told about the event by numerous people and that she tried to flee with items taken from a memorial for Kayla to avoid being caught with them.

Drago’s mother moved out of the Ray Court home shortly after she discovered Kayla’s body in her backyard and offered Drago a 6% commission to help her sell it, Drago told the grand jury. Prospective buyers balked, however, when they learned about Kayla's killing. The house, on the market for months, sold for $320,000, which would have netted Drago $19,200, the defendant said during her grand jury testimony.

Drago said she had often found balloons, flower bottles, pizza boxes, liquor bottles and other trash left from previous vigils, and her realtor had asked her to clear trash from the property in preparation for the closing. She threw candles, vases and other items from the memorial in a trash can and packed larger items, including a poster board with Kayla’s photo, in the back of her Rogue. 

Evelyn Rodriguez talks to the Brentwood School Board during a...

Evelyn Rodriguez talks to the Brentwood School Board during a public meeting in 2016. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Cuevas testified Thursday that the couple invited politicians, family and friends to join them in marking the second anniversary of Kayla's death.

Rodriguez later received a phone call from News12 reporter Eileen Lehpamer, who told her the memorial had been taken down as the news crew awaited the vigil, which the network planned to broadcast live at 6 p.m. that day, Cuevas testified. He told the court that he and Rodriguez drove the few blocks from their home to Ray Court and saw Drago was behind the wheel of the Rogue while a man — identified later during Drago’s grand jury testimony as the defendant’s fiance — sat on the passenger side. Cuevas said he could see some memorial items packed in a box in the back of Drago's SUV. 

"I said, 'What are you going to do, run her over?' " Freddy Cuevas said he asked Drago as Drago inched her SUV forward during the heated exchange. He later acknowledged punching Drago’s fiance in the face after Rodriguez was hit. Rodriguez later died at Southside Hospital, now known as South Shore University Hospital.

Testimony in the trial resumes Monday morning in Riverhead.

Biden immigrant policy impacts LI … School budget votes … Brooklyn pizza Credit: Newsday

Suffolk ATM burglaries ... Immigrant policy impacts LI ... Abortion rights on NY ballot ... Bus cam controversy

Biden immigrant policy impacts LI … School budget votes … Brooklyn pizza Credit: Newsday

Suffolk ATM burglaries ... Immigrant policy impacts LI ... Abortion rights on NY ballot ... Bus cam controversy

Latest videos

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME