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Brown charges Whitestone driver in Auburndale hit-and-run

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A Whitestone man arrested Christmas Eve as a suspect in a Bayside hit-and-run has been indicted by a grand jury on charges of killing an elderly woman and then fleeing the accident scene, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said last Thursday.

John Mauro, 61, was charged with manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter, reckless endangerment, criminally negligent homicide, leaving the scene of an incident and driving while under the influence of alcohol, Brown said in a news release.

If convicted, Mauro faces up to 15 years in prison, Brown said.

It was around 4:30 p.m. on Christmas Eve when 76-year-old Martha Russo of Bayside stepped out of her car in front of Pizzarama on Francis Lewis Boulevard to pick up her pizza order, the TimesLedger reported after the accident.

Police said she was struck at that moment by a white Cadillac that continued northbound without stopping.

Witnesses told the newspaper that the impact threw Russo's body over a car parked in front of hers before she hit the ground and skidded under another nearby car.

Two drivers chased Mauro, and one driver managed to trail him all the way to Mauro's Whitestone home at 157-20 Willets Point Blvd., where he was arrested by police.

Mauro's attorney did not return a call for comment.

The TimesLedger reported in December that Mauro's female companion, 60-year-old Janet Stewart, was charged with obstructing governmental administration and hindering prosecution. A DA spokeswoman said Monday that charges against Stewart had been dismissed, but could not comment further because the case against Stewart was sealed.

Sam Orlando, a Pizzarama employee, said Tuesday he was not present when the hit-and-run occurred but the victim, whom he described as "a beautiful sweet lady," was a regular weekly customer.

Orlando said he tried to call Russo's husband after the accident but there was no answer.

"The victim, an elderly woman and devoted wife, had battled cancer and survived, but she lost her life to a driver who was allegedly operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol," Brown said.

Because the case was a felony, it was referred to a grand jury that reviewed the evidence and issued an indictment, a DA spokesman said.

"There was an extensive investigation to obtain evidence needed to sustain criminal charges in the indictment," a DA spokeswoman said.

Mauro, who was released on $50,000 bail, is due to appear in Queens Criminal Court within the next two weeks, the DA spokeswoman said. An exact date for the appearance had not been scheduled as of press time.

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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