Driver goes on trial in deadly NY sidewalk wreck

A driver knocked back several happy-hour drinks before getting behind the wheel of a dilapidated van and plowing onto a sidewalk near the Empire State Building, pinning a pregnant woman underneath and killing her, prosecutors said.

Keston Brown went on trial Thursday on charges of aggravated vehicular homicide and assault in the death of Ysemny Ramos, whose unborn child also was killed. A friend walking with Ramos was injured in the March 2009 wreck.

Brown, a repairman for the grocery chain Gristedes, and a passenger went to a bar around 3 p.m. after work and drank three or four beers, Assistant District Attorney Shannon Lucey said. Brown's blood-alcohol level at the time of the accident was 0.11, over the legal driving limit of 0.08.

The van had been acting up earlier in the day, and it was rattling loudly shortly before Brown lost control, the prosecutor said.

Brown's attorney Patrick Watts said he was acting responsibly, trying to pull over the faulty van so no one would get injured. He said Brown was a married father of four, a hard worker and a veteran and had planned to take the van to a mechanic but didn't get the chance.

"He was trying to steer that car as best he can to where it wouldn't be a danger to others," Watts said.

But Lucey said Brown wasn't paying attention — because he was too busy speeding up and slowing down so his passenger could catcall women.

"He was distracted," she said. "He was driving a car that could give out on him at any moment. And, worst of all, he was intoxicated."

Meanwhile, Ramos and her friend Tassia Kastiambanis were just leaving work at their Madison Avenue office. Ramos, the mother of two children, was excited to celebrate her wedding anniversary.

"A baby sitter was arranged for, a restaurant had been decided on," Lucey said.

The van jumped the midtown Manhattan curb and slammed into the women, tearing Ramos' body in two, Lucey said.

Prosecutors played graphic footage of the wreck filmed on a handled camera by Ramos' colleague Marlon Contreras, a building superintendent at the architecture firm where she worked.

Contreras cried as he watched it. His shaky footage shows blood spattered on a building and then slowly pans down to Ramos' twisted, lifeless body trapped under the driver's side front wheel of the white van on the sidewalk. A line of blood trickles down Ramos' mouth as emergency crews try to administer aid. A bright pink shoe box is strewn on the sidewalk.

Family members of the defendant and the victim wept, and some left the courtroom in audible sobs.

Brown, who was uninjured in the crash, faces more than 15 years in prison if convicted of the charges against him.