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The drivers range in age from 19 to 23 and are from Jamaica, Middle Village and Bayside, the DA said. They face charges of reckless endangerment, reckless driving and engaging in a speed contest, the DA said.
The drivers' three vehicles have been seized and they could be sentenced to as much as seven years in prison if convicted, Brown said.
The police cracked down on illegal street racing on the stretch known to locals as "Franny Lew" after a 14-year-old boy from Floral Park and a 14-year-old girl from Little Neck were struck and seriously injured by a pair of speeding cars April 8, Brown said.
As of Tuesday, the drivers of those cars had not been caught.
The arrests and the hit-and-runs took place near Horace Harding Expressway and Francis Lew Boulevard, an infamous site of illegal street racing for more than 20 years.
"Drag racing is a serious threat to public safety, DA Brown said. "Their reckless conduct endangers lives and will not be tolerated."
On April 15, police observed Vitaliy Zaytsev, 21, of 21-26 202nd St. in Bayside take part in a drag race as he sped south on Francis Lewis near Horace Harding Expressway, Brown said. Zaytsev, an employee of an import-export company, drove a 1992 BMW, and officers saw him doing 80 mph in a 30 mph zone while changing lanes without signaling and forcing several vehicles to swerve from his path, Brown said.
Zaytsev also nearly hit two pedestrians at the intersection with Horace Harding, the same spot where the 14-year-olds were struck, the district attorney said.
The other two drivers charged were Brian Kessler, 23, a carpenter who lives at 58-33 84th St. in Middle Village, and Stephen Montalbano, 19, of 84-18 164th St. in Jamaica, Brown said.
On April, 20, police said they saw a 2002 GMC driven by Montalbano and a 2003 Dodge driven by Kessler stop at a traffic light at 58th Avenue and Francis Lewis Boulevard, according to the DA. Once the light turned green, the pair accelerated, spinning and smoking their tires as their vehicles quickly reached 60 mph in a 30 mph zone, Brown said.
Zaytsev was arraigned in State Supreme Court on April 16, while Montalbano and Kessler were arraigned on April 20, Brown said. Zaytsev was scheduled to return to court Friday. Montalbano and Kessler were due back in court on May 11.
Police continued to look for the hit-and-run drivers who smashed into the teenagers, Saverio Sportella of Floral Park and Christina Vroulis of Little Neck, as they crossed Francis Lewis at the intersection with Horace Harding.
Christina was released from New York Hospital Medical Center Sunday, a hospital spokeswoman said. Her family declined to comment. Saverio's sister, Marcela Sportella, said he remained in critical condition at New York Weill Cornell Medical Center in Manhattan, with fractures in his pelvis and legs. She said he was doing better, however.
Francis Lewis Boulevard became an illicit speedway after it was repaved several decades ago. With two and sometimes three lanes in each direction, the boulevard has through the years attracted racers on weekend nights and on holidays, much to the chagrin of residents.
In 1994, DA Brown began Operation Hermes, a joint effort with the police to monitor the races with undercover officers, arrest the drivers and seize their cars.
"As a result of Operation Hermes, police and prosecutors have eliminated the larger, organized races," Brown said. "But we are continuing our efforts to target and prevent spontaneous races."
After the 14-year-olds were hit on April 8, elected officials called for mechanical measures to help police stop the races, such as a new stoplight to break up the half-mile stretch along Cunningham Park. Other politicians urged the passage of new legislation so the city can install speeding cameras and pressed for an increase in the number of red light cameras now deployed.
Area residents also asked about speed bumps, but a spokesman for the city Department of Transportation said the devices could not be placed on state bus routes such as the boulevard.
Others in the community questioned whether cameras or new lights would stop the racers.
"They'll run the light," said Paul Chang, the manager of Eastern Autosports in Fresh Meadows, which sells parts for souping up cars. He said a new light would also create two perfect quarter-mile strips, the standard distance for races.
Some local leaders called for more direct enforcement.
"I think it's a poor substitute for having more police officers," said Jerry Iannece, chairman of Community Board 11 and a former assistant district attorney for the Bronx. He urged elected officials and police to stay focused on the problem.
Said Iannece: "It's unfortunate you had to have a tragedy to draw all eyes on this."
Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at email@example.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.
©2004 Community Newspaper Group
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