Ann Marie Drago, center, of Patchogue, arrives at Suffolk County...

Ann Marie Drago, center, of Patchogue, arrives at Suffolk County Court in Riverhead with family and friends on Wednesday. Credit: James Carbone

The Suffolk jury that will decide the fate of Ann Marie Drago asked to have the video of the Patchogue defendant striking Evelyn Rodriguez and running her over played three more times as it continued to weigh the top charge of criminally negligent homicide Wednesday.

The jury deliberated for more than 4 1/2 hours following closing arguments. Jurors also asked the judge to replay three times a slow-motion video entered by the defense that shows Rodriguez taking one final step to the left just before Drago accelerated her Nissan Rogue. Another note asked for a read back of the criminally negligent homicide charge and its elements.

In summations that lasted about 40 minutes apiece, both sides turned the attention of the jury to those video clips showing the moments on Sept. 14, 2018, before Drago caused Rodriguez’s death on the same Brentwood street where the body of her 16-year-old daughter, Kayla Cuevas, was found two years earlier, a victim of MS-13 gang violence.

Rodriguez, 50, of Brentwood and husband, Freddy Cuevas, were confronting Drago, 62, over her dismantling of a memorial dedicated to their daughter, whom they intended to celebrate at a vigil planned for 6 p.m. that evening outside Drago's mother's house.

But at 4 p.m., as the couple shouted at Drago in an attempt to get their items back, Drago pulled her Nissan Rogue forward, striking Rodriguez and causing her death as her head slammed down on the pavement of Ray Court.

Defense attorney Matthew Hereth contends it was that final step that caused Rodriguez’s foot to get stuck under the tire before her body was rapidly thrown to the ground. 

“When she took that step, that’s something you’re not going to expect as a driver,” Hereth said in closing arguments. "If anybody’s standing near your car and the car starts moving, your expectation is they’re going to step back.”

But Assistant Suffolk County District Attorney Laura Newcombe told the jury even if Rodriguez had not taken the step forward she would have been struck by Drago’s vehicle, as she positioned herself in plain sight on the driver’s side, in the only direction Drago could travel to avoid hitting Rodriguez’s minivan as it blocked her vehicle.

“The defendant failed to perceive the risk when she took her foot off the brake, turned the wheel to the left and hit the gas right in the direction of Evelyn Rodriguez,” Newcombe said.

Hereth said attempting to drive away from the chaotic scene was the only reasonable action for his client to take, as Cuevas and Rodriguez continued to shout expletives at her. 

“Fight or flight,” the defense attorney said. “Freddy and Evelyn were there for a fight, [Drago] was not … Flight was the only reasonable thing to do.”

Newcombe said Drago could have called 911, inched her SUV forward or honked as she was attempting to leave the scene with some of Rodriguez’s belongings in her car and damaged items from the memorial in a nearby trash can, which led to additional charges of petit larceny and criminal mischief.

“She wasn’t fleeing out of fear, she was fleeing out of guilt,” Newcombe said, saying the lesser charges are critical to proving the top charge.

The trial before state Supreme Court Justice Richard Ambro in Riverhead was the second for Drago. Her previous conviction was overturned in July 2022, when a state appeals court ruled prosecutors made improper comments during her three-week trial before then-acting state Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho.

Drago spent a week in state prison before she was released while awaiting her appeal. She had been sentenced to nine months in prison. 

Filmed by a News 12 crew that had interviewed Drago the day of the incident and was still on scene awaiting the vigil, the defense attorney said the video was “horrible” and the incident “tragic,” but the video proves it was not criminal.

“You all know this was an accident,” Hereth told the jury. “ … You get to tell [the prosecutors] this was an accident, not a homicide. You get to tell [Drago] that she’s not guilty.”

Newcombe said Drago had an unobstructed view of Rodriguez “the entire time” and “no reasonable person would fail to perceive the risk she took.”

“Evelyn’s death was avoidable and the defendant needs to be held accountable,” Newcombe said.

Deliberations resume Thursday. 

The Suffolk jury that will decide the fate of Ann Marie Drago asked to have the video of the Patchogue defendant striking Evelyn Rodriguez and running her over played three more times as it continued to weigh the top charge of criminally negligent homicide Wednesday.

The jury deliberated for more than 4 1/2 hours following closing arguments. Jurors also asked the judge to replay three times a slow-motion video entered by the defense that shows Rodriguez taking one final step to the left just before Drago accelerated her Nissan Rogue. Another note asked for a read back of the criminally negligent homicide charge and its elements.

In summations that lasted about 40 minutes apiece, both sides turned the attention of the jury to those video clips showing the moments on Sept. 14, 2018, before Drago caused Rodriguez’s death on the same Brentwood street where the body of her 16-year-old daughter, Kayla Cuevas, was found two years earlier, a victim of MS-13 gang violence.

Rodriguez, 50, of Brentwood and husband, Freddy Cuevas, were confronting Drago, 62, over her dismantling of a memorial dedicated to their daughter, whom they intended to celebrate at a vigil planned for 6 p.m. that evening outside Drago's mother's house.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Jurors in Ann Marie Drago's criminally negligent homicide trial asked to see a video of the defendant fatally striking Evelyn Rodriguez three times during deliberations Wednesday.
  • The Suffolk-based jury also asked for a read back of the criminally negligent homicide charge and its elements.
  • Jurors deliberated for almost five hours after closing statements. Deliberations resume Thursday.

But at 4 p.m., as the couple shouted at Drago in an attempt to get their items back, Drago pulled her Nissan Rogue forward, striking Rodriguez and causing her death as her head slammed down on the pavement of Ray Court.

Defense attorney Matthew Hereth contends it was that final step that caused Rodriguez’s foot to get stuck under the tire before her body was rapidly thrown to the ground. 

“When she took that step, that’s something you’re not going to expect as a driver,” Hereth said in closing arguments. "If anybody’s standing near your car and the car starts moving, your expectation is they’re going to step back.”

But Assistant Suffolk County District Attorney Laura Newcombe told the jury even if Rodriguez had not taken the step forward she would have been struck by Drago’s vehicle, as she positioned herself in plain sight on the driver’s side, in the only direction Drago could travel to avoid hitting Rodriguez’s minivan as it blocked her vehicle.

“The defendant failed to perceive the risk when she took her foot off the brake, turned the wheel to the left and hit the gas right in the direction of Evelyn Rodriguez,” Newcombe said.

Hereth said attempting to drive away from the chaotic scene was the only reasonable action for his client to take, as Cuevas and Rodriguez continued to shout expletives at her. 

“Fight or flight,” the defense attorney said. “Freddy and Evelyn were there for a fight, [Drago] was not … Flight was the only reasonable thing to do.”

Newcombe said Drago could have called 911, inched her SUV forward or honked as she was attempting to leave the scene with some of Rodriguez’s belongings in her car and damaged items from the memorial in a nearby trash can, which led to additional charges of petit larceny and criminal mischief.

“She wasn’t fleeing out of fear, she was fleeing out of guilt,” Newcombe said, saying the lesser charges are critical to proving the top charge.

Evelyn Rodriguez appears at a news conference by Suffolk County...

Evelyn Rodriguez appears at a news conference by Suffolk County officials in Hauppauge in April 2017. Credit: AP/Frank Eltman

The trial before state Supreme Court Justice Richard Ambro in Riverhead was the second for Drago. Her previous conviction was overturned in July 2022, when a state appeals court ruled prosecutors made improper comments during her three-week trial before then-acting state Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho.

Drago spent a week in state prison before she was released while awaiting her appeal. She had been sentenced to nine months in prison. 

Filmed by a News 12 crew that had interviewed Drago the day of the incident and was still on scene awaiting the vigil, the defense attorney said the video was “horrible” and the incident “tragic,” but the video proves it was not criminal.

“You all know this was an accident,” Hereth told the jury. “ … You get to tell [the prosecutors] this was an accident, not a homicide. You get to tell [Drago] that she’s not guilty.”

Newcombe said Drago had an unobstructed view of Rodriguez “the entire time” and “no reasonable person would fail to perceive the risk she took.”

“Evelyn’s death was avoidable and the defendant needs to be held accountable,” Newcombe said.

Deliberations resume Thursday. 

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