NEW YORK – A construction van driver who downed drinks, mowed down a pregnant woman and turned a rush hour sidewalk near the Empire State Building into a scene of carnage was convicted of manslaughter but cleared of a more serious charge Wednesday.
Keston Brown appeared to nod his head slightly several times as jurors left a Manhattan courtroom after delivering the verdict, which leaves the 28-year-old facing a potential sentence of up to 15 years in prison rather than the potential 25-year term he would have confronted if convicted of the top charge. His sentencing is set for Jan. 10.
Prosecutors said the grocery store repairman was drunk and his attention was sidetracked by a passenger's antics when his work van veered onto the sidewalk on March 27, 2009. Ysemny Ramos, 29, and her unborn child were killed. A friend walking with her was hurt.
"That this devastating crash could have been prevented makes this case infuriating, not tragic," District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said in a statement Wednesday.
Brown's blood-alcohol level was above the legal limit for driving, and he was speeding up and slowing down in the 20-year-old van so his co-worker could wolf-whistle at women, prosecutors said.
Parsing a list of nearly a dozen charges against Brown, jurors convicted him of driving under the influence of alcohol, assault and a manslaughter count that involves recklessly causing a death. But the jury acquitted him of several other charges, including the top one, aggravated vehicular homicide. Criteria for that offense include causing a death and seriously injuring another person.
"(Jurors) decided based on what they thought was the evidence," said Brown's lawyer, Patrick Watts.
Brown acknowledged he'd closed out his work week with a stop at a bar and had three beers and a shot of cognac within the hour or so before the crash. But he said that he lost control of the van because its engine abruptly failed and that he tried vainly to restart and steer it.
"The vehicle was going toward the sidewalk, so I pressed the horn, and that's when the accident happened," he told jurors.
The van jumped the curb, pinned Ramos (whose name is pronounced yuh-SEH'-muh-nee RAY'-mohs) to the ground and tore her body in two, prosecutors say. Brown wasn't hurt in the crash.
Brown, a married father of six children, said he is a former auto mechanic and Army veteran.
Ramos, a mother of two, was heading home to celebrate her wedding anniversary when she was run over. Prosecutors played graphic footage of the wreck filmed on a handheld camera by a building superintendent at the architecture firm where she worked.
Ramos' husband declined to comment after the verdict.
(This version CORRECTS spelling to 'handheld' instead of 'handled' camera.)