Reckless Driver Pleads Not Guilty for Wrong-Way Crash that Killed Baby Apolline

A memorial for baby Apolline at the corner of Vanderbilt and Gates avenues. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman
A memorial for baby Apolline at the corner of Vanderbilt and Gates avenues. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

The recidivist reckless driver now facing assault and manslaughter charges for killing a 3-month-old baby at a Brooklyn intersection last month pleaded not guilty on Thursday — even though he confessed and apologized for the crime when cops finally collared him after a frenzied and violent attempt to flee, prosecutors said.

The new charges against 29-year-old Tyrik Mott could land him behind bars for up to 25 years for causing the crash that killed Apolline Mong-Guillemin, severely injured her 33-year-old mom and also injured her 33-year-old dad plus the driver of another car that Mott slammed into on Vanderbilt Avenue on Sept. 11 after racing the wrong way on Gates Avenue in his 2017 Honda Civic with Pennsylvania plates, said Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez. Mott, whose car was caught on camera almost 100 tickets for speeding in school zones or going through red lights, initially fled the crash on foot, cops said, but was later arrested; at first, he was only charged with carjacking and robbery. He made bail for those charges after spending several days in Rikers.

But before Judge Danny Chun in Brooklyn Criminal Court on Thursday morning, senior assistant district attorney Lana Schlesinger argued that bail should be higher this time, not only because of the more serious charges, but also because Mott is a flight risk because of his frenzied attempt to evade cops in the minutes after the crash — details of which were revealed for the first time on Tuesday.

According to Schlesinger, Mott changed clothes in a nearby subway station to alter his appearance and then ran into a bar to try to clean up his visible injuries. He then attempted to carjack two vehicles on Atlantic Avenue before cops ultimately caught him. That’s when Mott told police at the time that he was sorry  because he should have stopped, and that he would pay for all the damages he caused, according to Schlesinger.

But no amount of money could have brought back baby Apolline, who was hurled from her stroller onto the concrete ground, and whose mom remains in critical but stable condition, said Schlesinger, who described grievous injuries.

“The defendant ran out of the vehicle, and fled into a nearby subway and removed his dark-colored jersey and discarded it within the subway. … He then attempted to carjack not one but two vehicles on busy Atlantic Avenue in an attempt to flee. A deliberate attempt to flee prosecution is why we ask for the increase in bail,” said Schlesinger, whose office asked for $500,000 bail.

Chun — known for several past controversial rulings, including sentencing former NYPD officer Peter Liang to just probation and community service for killing Akai Gurley in 2014, and for giving zero jail time to another two former NYPD officers for raping an 18-year-old woman while in custody — set $150,000 cash or a $350,000 bond, citing “the gravity of the charges,” Chun said from the bench.

But Mott’s attorney Lance Lazzaro argued in court that those are not valid grounds on which to set bail, following New York’s bail reform that went into effect in 2020. The reforms allow judges to still set bail on violent felonies. Mott was already released on a $200,000 bond earlier this month for the initial charges he faced of carjacking and robbery, before he was slapped with assault and manslaughter.

Lazzaro pleaded with Chun to not set bail at all, or to lower the amount, since Mott’s family was already forced to pay thousands of dollars to get Mott out of Rikers the first time, and that bail again would be punitive, and in direct conflict with the reforms for which Gonzalez himself had advocated.

“There’s nothing before this court, other than the nature of the charges, and that does not make him a risk of flight. He walked into court today,” said Lazzaro. “All they want to do is keep him in jail, and that’s not the purpose of bail reform. I haven’t heard one argument today how he’s a risk of flight. I think this is punitive and not what bail reform is about. Eric Gonzalez was one of the biggest proponents of bail reform. Are you telling me this family has to put up another $15,000?”

How Streetsblog covered the Baby Apolline story.
How Streetsblog covered the Baby Apolline story.

In fact, that is what the judge was telling him. Mott was removed from court and taken to Rikers. He’s due back in court on Nov. 30.

The charges against Mott — and the public’s intense interest in the case stem — from more than just the horrific nature of the Sept. 11 crash, but from years of missteps by city and state officials that failed to prevent the death of the 3-month-old and the catastrophic injuries suffered by her mother. As Streetsblog has reported, the 93 camera-issued speeding and red-light tickets on Mott’s car were far more than enough to put Mott’s car at risk of being impounded … if Mayor de Blasio had not delayed implementation of the Dangerous Vehicle Abatement Act, which he signed in early 2020, but did not fund until this year.

Mott’s car also had thousands of dollars in unpaid tickets, making his car subject to being towed or booted … but the Sheriff’s department failed to do so, citing an inability to find his car on the street, despite it passing city speed and red-light camera scores of times.

Mott was also arrested for driving with a suspended license in February — one of the many times he drove without a valid license, authorities said — but even then was not prevented from driving. Instead, Mott was ordered to take a safe-driving course — which he completed — yet still got more than 20 speeding and red-light tickets in just the four-plus months before he allegedly killed Baby Apolline.

Such safe driving courses are seen by advocates as a way to cut down on repeat recklessness by the worst drivers in the city. But that optimism is very much in doubt in a year that is the bloodiest of Mayor de Blasio’s two terms.

Cartoon: Bill Roundy
How our editorial cartoonist sees such course. Cartoon: Bill Roundy