The 15-year-old driver in a crash that killed three teens got behind the wheel because the designated driver “was high or drunk,” her attorney told a Family Court judge in Westbury on Monday.
Cindy Sanchez, a ninth-grader at Uniondale High School, did not speak publicly during her brief arraignment on manslaughter and other charges before Judge Ellen Greenberg. Sanchez opposed the charges through her attorney, James E. Toner of Mineola.
Toner told Greenberg his client has little driving experience and lost control of the vehicle in the Friday crash.
“This is a tragedy, your honor,” Toner said.
Julia D’Agostino, Nassau County deputy bureau chief of the Family Court Bureau, told the judge Sanchez and eight other teenagers cut class Friday and headed to Jones Beach.
Sanchez was driving at speeds of between 60 and 80 mph on the Meadowbrook State Parkway when she lost control of the 2005 Chevrolet Trailblazer, D’Agostino said. The SUV overturned several times before coming to rest in a marsh, New York State Police said.
After the crash, Sanchez told police that when she approached a curve in the road, she meant to step on the brakes but instead hit the gas pedal, Toner said in an interview outside of the courthouse.
Sanchez’s brother, David Sanchez, 13, died in the crash, as did Marlon Carbajal, 15, the son of the SUV’s owner, and another teenager, Herbert Leo Aviles-Maravilla, 16, State Police said. The three boys, who police said did not wear seat belts, were ejected from the SUV. Sanchez’s toddler, also riding in the SUV, was not hurt.
The remaining passengers, ages 13 to 17 and from Uniondale, suffered non-life-threatening injuries, State Police said.
Police had said Sanchez’s son was 18 months old. Toner on Monday said the boy is 23 months old and in the custody of Nassau County Child Protective Services.
Sanchez faces three counts of second-degree manslaughter and three counts of criminally negligent homicide. The charges, D’Agostino said, may be upgraded, pending a forensic report. Toner said he believes the report will contain the results of a blood test done on Sanchez to determine whether she consumed alcohol or drugs before the crash. He said Sanchez had not drunk alcohol nor taken drugs.
The teenager is being charged as a juvenile primarily because of her age and the absence of aggravating circumstances, Toner said. Sanchez faces anywhere from probation to two years in juvenile detention if convicted, he said.
Greenberg rejected Toner’s request to allow Sanchez to go home with her mother.
D’Agostino asked the judge to keep Sanchez in custody because she is a flight risk and might flee to Boston, where her biological father lives.
Sanchez has a “history of truancy” and hung out with associates of Vatos Locos, a local street gang, D’Agostino said, adding that two of the gang members were in the SUV.
Greenberg ordered Sanchez held in a juvenile detention center and directed her to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, to which Sanchez’s attorney did not object.
The judge ordered Sanchez to return to court on July 3.