MINEOLA, N.Y. – Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas announced that a man and woman from Brooklyn received prison sentences yesterday for their roles in the fatal April 2018 Inwood crash that killed a newly-engaged couple.
Rahmel Watkins, 36, of Brooklyn, was sentenced to 18 years to life in prison before Judge Fran Ricigliano. He was found guilty on September 24, 2019, following a jury trial 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.
Zakiyyah Steward, 27, of Brooklyn, pled guilty to all the charges in the indictment on February 26 and was sentenced to three to nine years in prison by Judge Fran Ricigliano. Steward’s top count plea included three counts of Aggravated Vehicular Homicide (a B felony) and two counts of Manslaughter in the Second Degree (a C felony).
“The Levin and Kaplan families phrased it perfectly when they said they would have to endure lifelong sorrow as they forever mourn the loss of Elisheva and Yisroel,” DA Singas said. “Their young and innocent lives were taken from them too soon because of a deadly combination of alcohol, drugs, speed and recklessness. I am grateful to the work of our prosecutors and police department for ensuring justice was served.”
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 100 mph 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. The couple’s car exploded and was pushed backward hundreds of feet. Steward was driving a 2016 Hyundai Genesis, next to Watkins, at a high rate of speed while intoxicated and impaired by marijuana. Her vehicle also struck the Altima.
The impact of the collisions killed Levin and Kaplan. The newly-engaged couple was returning home from a family Passover gathering. They were to be married in June 2018.
Watkins also struck a silver Infiniti being driven by James Hamilton, which caused serious physical injuries, including a spinal fracture, torn meniscus, torn knee ligament and permanent scarring on his hand. Watkins’ passenger, Lakeisha Norfort, suffered a compound fracture to her leg.
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 Nancy Garber, Esq. and Watkins is represented by Joseph Lo Piccolo, Esq.