Jericho crash: Two Roslyn students, 14, killed in wrong-way crash; driver charged with DWI
This story was reported by John Asbury, Robert Brodsky, Cecilia Dowd, Jordan Lauterbach, Grant Parpan, Roger Rubin, Joie Tyrrell, John Valenti and Olivia Winslow. It was written by Brodsky.
Two 14-year-old Roslyn Middle School students, on their way home after a tennis victory, were killed Wednesday night while two other teens were seriously injured in a "catastrophic" crash in Jericho after their car was hit by a drunken wrong-way driver in a pickup truck, Nassau police and school officials said.
The Roslyn School District identified the teens killed as Drew Hassenbein and Ethan Falkowitz, both elite tennis players in the eighth grade. The two survivors, the 17-year-old driver and a 16-year-old passenger, were not identified but are in stable condition at a hospital while recovering from internal injuries, authorities said.
The funeral for Falkowitz was set for Friday at 11:30 a.m. at Temple Sinai of Roslyn.
"We are experiencing unimaginable grief," said Roslyn Board of Education president Meryl Waxman Ben-Levy. "Our community was destroyed. These were beautiful people; beautiful babies."
WHAT TO KNOW
- Two Roslyn Middle School students were killed and two other teens seriously injured when their vehicle was struck Wednesday night by a drunken driver heading in the wrong direction in Jericho, police said.
- The driver, Amandeep Singh, of Roslyn, faces a battery of criminal charges including vehicular manslaughter and driving while intoxicated and was held without bail following his arraignment Thursday in Hempstead.
- The two teens who were killed, Drew Hassenbein and Ethan Falkowitz, were highly touted tennis players who were on their way home Wednesday following a victory over rival Syosset.
The driver of the pickup truck, Amandeep Singh, 34, of Roslyn, was arrested after attempting to flee the "horrific" crash site, which left a debris field exceeding the size of a football field, according to Det. Capt. Stephen Fitzpatrick, commanding officer of the Nassau County Police Department's Homicide Squad,
Detectives said Singh was driving a 2019 Dodge Ram pickup south in the northbound lanes of North Broadway, adjacent to the Jericho Commons shopping mall, when he swerved around cars and finally crashed into a 2019 Alfa Romeo four-door sedan occupied by the four teens at 10:21 p.m. Wednesday. The Alfa Romeo then struck a Volvo occupied by a 49-year-old woman and her 16-year-old son, both of whom sustained only minor injuries, police said.
Singh, who refused to talk to reporters Thursday as he was escorted from police headquarters in Mineola with a large bruise under his eye, was charged with aggravated vehicular homicide, first-degree vehicular manslaughter, two counts each of second-degree manslaughter and second-degree assault, leaving the scene of an auto accident with a fatality and driving while intoxicated.
He was remanded to the Nassau jail in East Meadow without bail following his arraignment at First District Court — a decision that was met with loud applause from the dozens of Roslyn community members who crammed into the Hempstead courtroom.
District Court Judge Joseph Nocella said Singh’s prior criminal history, which includes a youthful offender conviction for driving while intoxicated, combined with the strength of the case against him, makes him a flight risk. Nocella suspended Singh's license and put him in protective custody.
Prosecutors said Singh also had a youthful offender conviction for gang assault and was twice subject to removal from the country.
James Kousouros, Singh's Manhattan-based defense attorney, said his client’s criminal history dates back to 2006 but that Singh is currently a U.S. citizen, a business owner and graduate of New York University.
“He has very strong ties to his community,” Kousouros argued, noting the presence of Singh's wife and two young children in the courtroom. “ … Obviously this is an unmitigated tragedy."
At a news conference in Mineola, Fitzpatrick, who was among the officers to respond to the crash, described the scene as among the worst he's ever encountered.
"It was probably one of the most catastrophic scenes I have seen in a long time," Fitzpatrick said, adding that the debris field was so extensive that it was "almost like the car exploded."
Singh, he said, was "swerving in and out of lanes and the kids had nowhere to go. They eventually tried to maneuver to the left, exposing the right side of the car and the truck collided catastrophically with the vehicle. The pickup truck went airborne, spinning, and landed 300 feet away."
The driver, Fitzpatrick said, did everything he could to avoid the pickup.
"The poor kid chose to go left and the car hit them," he said, adding that Hassenbein and Falkowitz were both seated on the right side of the Alfa Romeo.
As witnesses tried to render aid to the teens, Singh fled the scene on foot; police located him in the Broadway Mall parking lot in Hicksville and arrested him, Fitzpatrick said.
Singh had a blood alcohol content of 0.18, more than twice the legal limit of 0.08, according to charging documents.
Fitzpatrick said Singh was "all over the place" in his answers to police.
"He thought he was in New Jersey," Fitzpatrick said, adding that police have surveillance video of the crash. "He asked the officers, 'what are you doing here? It's New Jersey.'"
The teens, who were returning home after eating dinner at the mall following the tennis match, were wearing their seat belts and the driver had a valid license, police said.
A divided and chaotic scene engulfed Singh's arraignment Thursday, as more than 150 members of the tightknit Roslyn community, including school officials and classmates of the victims, packed the courtroom alongside more than 20 friends and family members of the defendant.
Village of East Hills trustee Brian Meyerson said it was important to show support for the families involved in the tragedy.
"We're not a community. We're a family," Meyerson said, adding that the teens had the "brightest of futures before them."
The teens had beaten rival Syosset on Wednesday, Ben-Levy said. Roslyn was the Nassau County Large School boys tennis team champion in 2022 and the victims are among the top players on this season’s team.
"It was a big win," Ben-Levy said. "They were celebrating the way they should, as a team."
Roslyn's Senior Day home match, scheduled for Friday against Plainview-Old Bethpage, has been canceled, officials said.
Members of the Syosset team, along with tennis players from across the region, attended the court proceeding to show support for the victims.
Nash Dolinko, a friend of Falkowitz from a tennis camp in Pennsylvania, traveled from New Jersey to attend the arraignment.
“He was a great friend, an amazing personality,” Dolinko said. “He always put a smile on everyone’s face.”
Charlie Kaplan, another friend from New Jersey, said of Falkowitz: “I’m so upset that he’s gone.”
Falkowitz spent the past six years at Tyler Hill Camp in Wayne County, Pennsylvania. His 11-year-old brother, Landon, and 8-year-old sister, Reese, also attended the camp.
“Ethan was the perfect camper. He lit up the room every time he walked in and had the kindest soul,” said camp director Andy Siegel. “He was just one of those kids that enjoyed every aspect of camp and made the most of every summer.”
Hassenbein, meanwhile, was a nationally ranked singles tennis player and considered among the best in the country for his age group.
“He was a tenacious kid," said Jay Harris, general manager and director of tennis at SPORTIME in Roslyn. "You don’t get to be number one in the country in anything unless you’re extremely driven and really tough. And that’s Drew.”
Shiwally Walia, a parent from Robbie Wagner Tournament Training Center, the Glen Cove tennis academy where Hassenbein trained, showed reporters a photograph of the teen on center court at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens presenting Daniil Medvedev — the third ranked professional tennis player in the world — with the U.S. Open Trophy in 2021. She called the tennis club Hassenbein's “second home.”
Fellow tennis mom Melissa Wright said the crash victims "had great families who were really supportive of their kids and developed their talents."
Increased patrols, support in school
Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, meanwhile, said the county will enhance its DWI patrols, saying, "Two tragic lives lost because somebody chose to drink and drive and ended up going the wrong way. We can't have it."
In a letter to parents Thursday, Roslyn Schools Superintendent Allison Brown called the crash a "devastating loss … Our hearts are broken, and we are struggling to come to terms with this tragedy."
In a follow-up letter, Brown said the district will excuse students who want to stay home Friday and that crisis teams of mental health professionals, psychologists, and social workers will be on hand for those who need support.
“When a community experiences a tragedy like this, it can be difficult to navigate grief and sadness," she wrote. "For students who choose to stay home, we understand and support your decision, however, our schools will be open to provide support and care for our students. We have no expectations that the day will feel at all normal."