PEARL RIVER — More than eight months after the fiery crash that took the lives of her cousin and a high school friend, the Orangeburg woman who drove the sports car that raced down Route 304 and a second driver have been charged with criminally negligent homicide, police said Wednesday.
Orangetown police accused Aisha Radoncic, then 17, and Jason Castro of driving recklessly on Oct. 13 as they raced down the road, triggering a crash that killed two people in Radoncic’s 2017 Porsche Macan.
Radoncic’s car plunged off the Route 304 overpass onto the train tracks for the Pascack Valley line, bursting into flames. Castro of Nanuet drove a 2013 Volkswagen Jetta and was not injured.
Two passengers in the Porsche, Pearl River High School senior and football player Altin Nezaj, 17, and 15-year-old Saniha Cekic of Brooklyn, were killed. Radoncic, who was treated at the Westchester Medical Center and released, and Cekic were cousins.
Both Radoncic and Castro pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Students visit the memorial scene in Pearl River Oct. 15, 2019, at the site of the fatal crash that killed Altin Nezaj and 15-year-old Brooklyn resident Saniha Cekic and injured Pearl River senior Aisha Radoncic, of Orangeburg, who was driving the car. (Photo: John Meore/The Journal News)
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Police arrested Castro and Radoncic on two felony counts of criminally negligent homicide and misdemeanor counts of reckless driving, speed contests, and races. They also were given several vehicle and traffic law infractions.
Orangetown police arrested Radoncic on Monday and Castro on Tuesday.
Capt. James Brown said the incidents is an open criminal case and certain information cannot be released at this time.
Orangetown Police Chief Donald Butterworth said the investigation took time and dedication.
“Our Accident Investigation Team and their partners in the NYS Police and the Rockland County District Attorney’s Office have been deeply committed to this investigation from its start,” he said.
Butterworth and District Attorney Thomas Walsh also recalled the young people who died in the crash.
“Today our community relives the horrible tragedy that claimed the lives of two teenagers, taken from us with there whole lives in front of them,” Walsh said. “The allegations are that the two arrested individuals were engaged in a road race.
“We need to remind our young drivers that cars aren’t toys,” Walsh said. “What appears to be an exciting race turns into a tragedy that has forever impacted numerous families and Pearl River as a community. Our sympathies go out to all the families involved in this horrible event.”
Pearl River school Superintendent Marco Pochintesta said the victims of the Oct. 13 crash continued to be remembered by the district community.
“As we approach graduation, we especially recall the memory of Altin Nezaj, member of the Class of 2020, who we have held in our hearts throughout the year, and we offer our thoughts to the Nezaj, Cekic and Radoncic relatives and loved ones,” Pochintesta said in a statement.
Castro was arraigned by Justice Patrick Loftus and released without bail pending a court appearance scheduled for Aug. 10. Radoncic was arraigned Tuesday in the Youth Part of the Rockland Superior Court by Judge Larry J Schwartz. She was released without bail for a scheduled court appearance on June 30.
The crash occurred on northbound Route 304 in the vicinity of the Crooked Hill Road overpass at approximately 3:26 p.m. that Saturday over the Columbus Day weekend. The road has had numerous accidents in the area.
Orangetown and state police accident investigation officers spent weeks reconstructing the crash and reviewing the evidence with the state police to determine the cause. Detective Sgt. James Sullivan said at the time there was no indication of drug or alcohol use by the drivers or passengers.
Altin Nezaj, with his mother, Suzy, behind him. Altin Nezaj died in a car accident in Pearl River on Oct. 13, 2019. (Photo: Family photo)
Nezaj, who came from a large, close-knit Albanian-American family, was an excellent student and a standout athlete at Pearl River High School.
On the Pirates football team, Nezaj wore number 71, a 6-foot-2-inch, 205-pound defensive lineman. The entire team attended his wake at a Yonkers funeral home.
His wrestling coach remembered him as a great teammate and competitor whom they called “Big Al.” In track-and-field, he threw the discus and shot put.
Nezaj died at the scene, while emergency room personnel pronounced Cekic dead at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla. She had been airlifted to the hospital.
Driver not culpable: Lawyer
Castro’s attorney, Gerard Damiani, said he had yet to see any evidence from the police and prosecution concerning his client. Damiani said the prosecution asked the judge for a delay in presenting evidence and witness statements to the defense within 10 days of arrest under the state justice reforms. The judge did not make a decision, he said.
Damiani said he originally thought Castro would be involved in a civil case, but then the police began interviewing him.
“Aside from the tragic deaths and pain suffered by the families, we don’t have any indication our client is criminally responsible,” Damiani said. “I have no information other than the allegations. I have no indication there was any agreement to have a race.”
Attorney John Hughes, representing Radoncic, said he’s awaiting the investigative reports before commenting. He said she’s still recovering from her injuries.
“It was a terrible tragedy and my heart goes out the families who lost loved ones,” Hughes said. “Ms. Radoncic also was a victim and not the culpable party.”
Steve Lieberman covers government, breaking news, courts, police and investigations. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @lohudlegal. Read more articles and bio. Our local coverage is only possible with support from our readers. Sign up today for a digital subscription.
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