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12-year-old Valley Stream boy struck and killed by car on way to school

Zachary Ranftle, 12, was struck and killed Dec.

Zachary Ranftle, 12, was struck and killed Dec. 11, 2014 in Valley Stream by a motorist with a suspended license, Nassau police said. Photo Credit: Handout; Howard Schnapp

A 12-year-old Valley Stream boy on his way to school was struck and killed Thursday in Valley Stream by a motorist with a suspended license, Nassau police said.

Zachary Ranftle was on the southeast corner of South Franklin Avenue and West Merrick Road and crossing west onto South Franklin when he was hit at 7:17 a.m. by a GMC Yukon driven by Austin Soldano, 29, of Seaford, police said.

The boy was taken to Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, where he was pronounced dead at 8:10 a.m., police said.

Zachary was a seventh-grader at Memorial Junior High School, part of the Valley Stream Central High School District, which released a statement Thursday saying grief counselors would be made available.

Thursday night, Zachary's grandmother, Evelyn Ranftle, 71, of Glen Oaks, said: "I can't believe this is happening. I keep telling myself he's with his father now." Ranftle said her son, Walter, Zachary's father, died in 2006 of pneumonia.

She said she last saw the boy during the weekend, describing him as "a very happy boy, very smart" who was in the Boy Scouts and played in Little League teams.

"He always wanted to help everybody out," she said. "He helped me put up my curtains."

She said he would call her some days after school just to talk.

Zachary and his family relocated to Valley Stream in August, she said. His mother is remarried and he has two brothers, 8 and 1.

His uncle, Paul Ranftle, said he learned the news yesterday morning from Zachary's stepfather. "I completely lost it," said Ranftle, 36 of Glen Oaks. "It's a shame that this guy was driving with a suspended license. A little boy died."

Legis. Carrié Solages (D-Elmont) said he learned of the accident in his district from the superintendent.

Solages emphasized that the accident "was not in a school zone."

"It's very sad," Solages said.

The boy was on the sidewalk on the southeast corner of the intersection, trying to go north toward his school, while Soldano was stopped for the red light at South Franklin, said Det. Lt. John Azzata of the homicide squad.

"He's standing in between two utility poles so the operator's vision might be partially obstructed," Azzata said.

When the light turned green, Soldano made a right turn onto Merrick, hitting the boy, who had started to cross, he said.

"It's a terrible, terrible tragedy," Azzata said.

Other drivers, who got out to help, told investigators that it did not appear Soldano's speed was a factor, Azzata said. He stayed at the scene, police said.

Soldano, of 3916 Ralph St., was charged with second- and third-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a vehicle, both misdemeanors, and operating a motor vehicle with a suspended license, a violation.

He was released on bail of $10,000 bond or $5,000 cash.

"It was an accident," said his attorney, Robert Brunetti of Mineola. "My understanding is he was unaware his license was suspended."

Soldano's license had been suspended due to his latest arrest in August, which includes a drunken driving charge, police said.

He has a record of driving convictions and two previous cases pending in Nassau County, online court records show.

In a case that stemmed from a 2010 arrest, he pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated and disorderly conduct, court records show. He was fined $750 and ordered to perform 50 hours of community service.

To settle a 2011 arrest, he pleaded guilty to aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle and was fined $250, records show.

Soldano was arrested again in April 2013 and pleaded guilty in June to reckless driving and unlawful fleeing from a police officer, online court records show. He was scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 10 on those two misdemeanors, according to the records.

In August, Long Beach police filed charges against him, including the DWI charge and resisting arrest, court records show. His next court date was set for Wednesday in the Long Beach case.With Celeste Hadrick

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