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Family of Austin Soldano, driver who fatally struck Zachary Ranftle, 12, offers to pay for boy's funeral

Police say 12-year-old Zachary Ranftle, in an undated

Police say 12-year-old Zachary Ranftle, in an undated family photo, was struck and killed while on his way to school in Valley Stream by Austin Soldano, 29, of Seaford, who is shown leaving Nassau District Court on Monday, December 15, 2014. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

The family of the driver who struck and killed a 12-year-old Valley Stream boy walking to school Thursday offered to pay for funeral costs Monday.

Austin Soldano, 29, of Seaford, who police said was driving on a suspended license when he hit Zachary Ranftle in Valley Stream, appeared briefly Monday in First District Court in Hempstead. He's due back in court Feb. 10.

Soldano last week pleaded not guilty to second- and third-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a vehicle, both misdemeanors, and operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license, a violation, in connection with the accident that left Zachary dead. He was released on bail of $10,000 bond or $5,000 cash.

Soldano was accompanied in court Monday by his parents. They declined to comment.

In a written statement, provided by Austin Soldano's lawyer Robert J. Brunetti, Lisa Soldano, the defendant's mother, wrote: "There are not enough words to express how sorry we are for this tragic accident. We cannot even imagine the pain and grief that your family is suffering. I know that there is nothing we can do to bring Zachary back, but we would like to offer to pay for the funeral expenses or help out in any way we can."

Zachary's uncle, Paul Ranftle, 36, of Glen Oaks, responded to the statement in a text message: "The family is apologizing for him. I would feel better with an apology from him and his heart. . . . I can and will forgive Mr. Soldano in time. Right now is too soon. The tears have not stopped in our family to start the process of healing or forgiveness. I can never forget Zach, and we all will miss him dearly this holiday season."

Paul Ranftle said "justice has not happened. We will keep fighting so Zachary can be at peace."

Brunetti said the Soldanos, on his advice, have not reached out directly to Zachary's family. But Brunetti said Zachary's family should call him to discuss the funeral expenses.

Zachary, a seventh-grader at Valley Stream Memorial Junior High School, was about a mile from his home when he was hit by a GMC Yukon at 7:17 a.m. as he attempted to cross west from West Merrick Road onto South Franklin Avenue, Nassau police said. Soldano stayed at the scene, police said.

Zachary's mother had only let him walk to school by himself earlier this school year. He would have turned 13 on Jan. 19.

Brunetti said Austin Soldano and his family are devastated by the child's death.

"They're besides themselves about what happened," Brunetti said. "Mrs. Soldano was here in my office crying, Austin was crying. Obviously, he didn't intend to kill anybody."

Asked about Soldano's previous criminal record, which includes a 2010 conviction for driving while intoxicated, Brunetti said there's no allegation of recklessness in this case.

"Any punishment he gets, no matter what happens, there's nothing that can bring that boy back, and Mr. Soldano will have to live with this for the rest of his life," Brunetti said.

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