PHILADELPHIA – A car that jumped a curb and crashed into a crowd, killing a woman and three young children, was fleeing a police officer who had tried unsuccessfully to stop the driver but who got stuck in traffic and couldn't give chase, the police commissioner said Thursday.
"Did a pursuit take place? The answer is no," police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said during a news conference at police headquarters, pointing to the mug shot of one of two suspects. "The fault belongs to the individual you see here."
Ramsey said the officer would have been justified if he had chased the driver of the car or a second man, who a witness said had earlier jumped out of the car and stolen a motorcycle at gunpoint.
The driver of the car, Donta Cradock, and the man who fled on the motorcycle, Ivan Rodriguez, have been charged with murder, armed robbery, assault and related offenses, police said.
Cradock, 18, and Rodriguez, 20, have long criminal records and already had bench warrants out for their arrests, but police said it wasn't immediately clear for what offenses. Cradock has eight prior arrests on charges including assault, burglary and weapon possession; Rodriguez has five prior arrests on charges including car theft and criminal mischief.
The men were in custody but hadn't been arraigned as of Thursday afternoon and apparently didn't have lawyers yet.
The events started when a witness told the officer he had seen a passenger get out of the car and steal a motorcycle Wednesday night. The officer later spotted a car matching the witness' description at a traffic light in the Feltonville neighborhood.
The officer pulled up behind the car, turned on his emergency lights and ordered the driver to get out, but the driver sped off, Ramsey said.
The officer was stuck in traffic and wasn't able to pursue the driver immediately, Ramsey said. He lost sight of the car before coming upon the crash scene about a mile away.
Cradock had lost control and crashed into the crowd in front of a home, Ramsey said. Police didn't estimate the car's speed, but Ramsey said there were no skid marks, indicating the driver never tried to brake.
The car jumped the curb with such force that it badly damaged some concrete steps. It became wedged between a house and a pole.
Cradock was injured and arrested at the scene, and a gun was found in the car, police said. He remained hospitalized Thursday, but police said his injuries weren't believed to be life-threatening.
Rodriguez was arrested at his nearby home, where two shotguns, two handguns and a rifle were found, police said. Officers were attacked by a dog at the home and had to shoot it but didn't kill it, police said.
The crash killed Latoya Smith, 22; her daughter, Remedy Smith, who would have turned 1 on Friday and was in a baby carriage when she was struck; Alliyah Griffin, 6, who was Latoya Smith's niece; and Gina Rosario, 7, a neighbor. Smith has two other children, 2- and 4-year-old boys, who were staying with relatives and didn't yet know of their mother's death.
The crash happened in front of Smith's home, where neighbors and strangers went by Thursday to place flowers, candles and stuffed toys. Dozens of stunned relatives held each other and wept.
Sandra Perez, Gina Rosario's grandmother, stood trembling on the front step of her family's home several doors away from the crash scene and held a picture of the little girl in her school uniform taken signing "I really love you" in American Sign Language.
Perez said her daughter — Gina's mother, Tammy Rosario — is deaf.
Felicia Brown, Latoya Smith's aunt, said the two grew up in the same house and were more like sisters.
"She loved to dance. She was funny," Brown said. "She always made me smile when I was down."
Latoya Smith's cousin Tynerra Brown, 16, said Remedy was a happy, healthy baby.
"She almost took her first step," she said. "She didn't even get to have her first step."