Teen Weeps, Proclaims Innocence in Fatal Crash - NBC New York

Teen Weeps, Proclaims Innocence in Fatal Crash

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    Driver Kayla Gerdes was allegedly high on painkillers when she crashed a van into a house in Hempstead, killing a homeowner gardening in her front yard and smashing the van into the front of the red brick house. (Published Wednesday, April 21, 2010)

    Kayla Gerdes screamed at the cameras and microphones surrounding her as she headed to court to face manslaughter and other charges.

    "It was a mistake," the 18-year-old cried.

    "Were you high on drugs?" shouted a reporter.

    "No," she sobbed, "It was prescription drugs!  It was all an accident!  Please stop!"

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    18-year-old Kayla Gerdes is charged with vehicular manslaughter after hitting a Hempstead LI woman on Tuesday. Police say Gerdes was high on painkillers.
    (Published Wednesday, April 21, 2010)

    Gerdes was high behind the wheel of a van that struck and killed a 69-year-old Hempstead homeowner Rebecca Twine-Wright -- who was mowing her lawn -- and then crashed into the woman's house, said Nassau County police.

    "We believe Gerdes was high on oxicodone," said Nassau police Det. Lt. John DeMartinis.

    Gerdes was originally a passenger in the van, police said; but, later, took the wheel from driver, Brian Steele, because she felt he wasn't traveling fast enough. Steele has not been charged. His is believed to be her boss, said prosecutors.

    Gerdes pleaded not guilty at her arraignment, and remained in police custody with bail set at $200,000.

    "She has a problem," conceded her lawyer John Lewis, Jr., who also insisted there is more to this story, claiming that Gerdes took the wheel because Steele was "in no condition to drive."

    Lewis wouldn't elaborate further.

    But this is not Gerdes' first brush with the law.

    Sources told NBCNewYork that Gerdes was arrested in Hillsborough County, Florida, in February for possession of marijuana; and has been arrested twice for petty larceny in Nassau county; and she has done a brief stint in drug rehab.

    "This is a pattern you could have scripted, something we have seen time and again on Long Island," said Jeffrey Reynolds, executive director of the Long Island Council of Alcohol and Drug Dependence.

    "We're in the midst of a major teen opiate crisis on Long Island and this Hempstead woman is the latest casualty."

    Gerdes' mother, Tara appeared with her daughter in court and later addressed reporters.

    "I am very sorry for the family in this horrible tragedy," said Tara Gerdes.

    Sadly, prescription drug addictions often begin in the home, said Reynolds, adding that many teens begin popping pills once used by their family members.

    "We're beginning to see the collateral damage from this opiate crisis," explained Reynolds. "We need to do something and do it fast."