Brooklyn residents Rahmel Watkins and Zakiyyah Steward were sentenced on Tuesday for their roles in the April 2018 car crash that killed Elisheva Kaplan and Yisroel Levin on the Nassau Expressway in Lawrence.
Watkins, 36, received an 18-year to life prison sentence. He was convicted on four counts of second-degree assault, two counts of negligent homicide, reckless endangerment and reckless driving on Sept. 24.
Steward, 25, was given a sentence of 3 to 9 years. On Feb. 27, she pleaded guilty to 17 charges ranging from manslaughter second degree, assault second-degree, reckless driving and endangerment, three vehicular traffic laws, vehicular manslaughter second-degree twice and one first-degree count, and aggravated vehicular homicide.
Before she was sentenced, Steward read a statement of remorse. “To the Kaplan and Levin families, I’m very sorry for your loss,” she said. “I pray for you more than I pray for myself. I’ll never forgive myself for what I’ve done, but hopefully one day, you will … forgive me.'
Nassau County District Attorneys Katie Zizza and Christopher Casa prosecuted both cases. The prosecutors requested that Judge Francis Ricigliano sentence Watkins to 25 years to life. “This case is every parents nightmare, which is not having their child return home,” Zizza said. “This defendant’s reckless driving caused two young people to die.”
Joel Kaplan, father of Elisheva, said he was grateful to the DA’s office for its efforts. “This trial was never about revenge, it was about mercy — mercy to ordinary citizens who were obeying the law,” said Kaplan, cantor at Congregation Beth Sholom in Lawrence.
“I have a solemn feeling because Yisroel and Elisheva cannot be brought back to life,” he said. “I also have solemn feeling for the two people who caused their deaths because they have to go to jail. But we must never use sympathy to justify people who are a danger to others.”
Despite the possibility of life in prison for Watkins, Samuel Levin, the father of Yisroel, expressed disappointment with the sentencing. “We appealed to the judge to give Watkins 25 years to life,” Levin said. “He had the opportunity to do the right thing and give 25. Instead, he gave 18.”