MINEOLA, N.Y. – Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas announced that a Brooklyn man was convicted today of Criminally Negligent Homicide and Assault in the Second Degree for his role in the fatal April 2018 Inwood crash that killed a newly-engaged couple.
Rahmel Watkins, 36, of Brooklyn, was convicted by a jury of two counts of Criminally Negligent Homicide (an E felony), four counts of Assault in the Second Degree (a D violent felony), Reckless Endangerment in the Second Degree (an A misdemeanor) and Reckless Driving (an unclassified misdemeanor). The defendant was acquitted of two counts of Manslaughter in the Second Degree.
The trial, before Judge Fran Ricigliano, lasted approximately three weeks and the jury deliberated for approximately three days. The defendant is due back in court November 1 and faces up to life in prison.
“A young couple was tragically killed because Rahmel Watkins chose to drive recklessly at speeds of 100 miles an hour,” DA Singas said. “While this defendant is going to spend many years behind bars, the Levin and Kaplan families will have to spend the rest of their lives without Yisroel and Elisheva. May their memories be a blessing.”
DA Singas said that on April 4, 2018, at approximately 1:40 a.m., defendants Rahmel Watkins and Zakiyyah Steward were part of a group of cars traveling in the northbound lanes of the Nassau Expressway in Inwood from Far Rockaway to a Queens casino. Defendant Watkins was operating a 2010 BMW 550i GT recklessly and more than twice the speed limit when his vehicle crossed over the double yellow lines and struck a 2017 Nissan Altima head-on being driven by 21-year-old Yisroel Levin, with his 20-year-old fiancé, Elisheva Kaplan, in the passenger seat. They were returning home from a Passover gathering and were to be married in June 2018.
The Altima burst into flames, was pushed backward and continued to burn, killing Levin and Kaplan. Watkins then struck a silver Infiniti being driven by James Hamilton, which fractured the man’s spine and caused injuries to his hand, ankle and knee.
Steward was driving a 2016 Hyundai Genesis, next to Watkins, at a high rate of speed and while intoxicated and impaired by marijuana. Steward’s vehicle also struck Mr. Levin's Altima. The defendants suffered minor injuries in the crash.
Zakiyyah Steward pleaded guilty to the indictment in its entirety before Judge Fran Ricigliano on February 26. She is expected to be sentenced on October 7 to three to nine years in prison.
Deputy Bureau Chief Katie Zizza and Senior Assistant District Attorney Christopher Casa of DA Singas’ Vehicular Crimes Bureau are prosecuting this case. Steward is represented by Jenna Suppon, Esq. and Watkins is represented by Joseph Lo Piccolo, Esq.