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August 27, 2014, 11:01 am

Trial begins in crash that killed four

The stuffed animal and candle memorial that once covered the sidewalk at Third and Annsbury Streets is long gone now, but at the beginning of the summer of 2009 it marked the site of a horrific car crash that killed four people, one of them a baby that was about turn 1 year old.

On June 10, 2009, Donta Cradock, then 18 and his stepbrother, Ivan Rodriguez, who was 23 at the time, were attempting to escape the scene of an armed robbery they had just allegedly committed.

Cradock was behind the wheel of a silver Pontiac Grand Am and allegedly driving at high speed when he lost control of the vehicle which jumped the curb and smashed into four people, killing them.

The victims were Latoya Smith, 22, her daughter, 11-month-old Remedy Smith, Alicia Griffin, 6, who was related to the Smiths and Gina Marie Rosario, 7, a family friend. Craddock and Rodriguez were charged with multiple counts of second degree murder, armed robbery, conspiracy, homicide by vehicle and related offenses. Jury selection for the two young defendants began on Monday.

“The way I feel right now, I wouldn’t wish this pain on my worst enemy,” said Ted Canada at the time, one of the grief stricken fathers and a grandfather of the victims. “It’s horrible to stand here and know that I just lost a daughter and two grand children over something as senseless as a car chase and an idiot running from the police. I can’t find any sense in this whatsoever. I can never bring my babies back; they were taken away from me. No matter what they do to the men involved it will never bring my babies back.”

According to police, the victims were in front of one of the row houses on Annsbury Street when the Pontiac Grand Am driven by Craddock at a high rate of speed, jumped the curb and struck them, killing two of them instantly and another who died of her injuries later that night at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children. Latoya Smith died that Friday morning.

According to Captain James Clark of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Homicide Unit, the tragedy began to unfold when at Fisher and Rising Sun Avenues in the Olney section of the city, Rodriguez and Cradock allegedly stole a Yamaha motorcycle at gunpoint. Rodriguez fled the scene on the bike while Cradock left the area in the Pontiac.

“The 22-year-old female was sitting on the front step, the one-year-old was in a baby carriage and the two other children were right in front of the steps, playing,” Clark said, describing the impact. “The vehicle came up at a high rate of speed, out of control, slammed up onto the sidewalk, striking the victims and hitting the baby carriage. The baby was discharged from the baby carriage and the two children were pinned beneath the vehicle.”

Both young men had extensive police records; police said that Craddock had eight prior arrests, including robbery and auto theft dating back to when he was 12-years old and Rodriguez had five priors for auto theft.

Shortly after the robbery, a police officer on patrol observed the Pontiac at 7:31 p.m. at C Street and Roosevelt Boulevard. The officer pulled up behind the vehicle at a light, left his car and tried to apprehend Cradock, who took off. The Pontiac sped south on Third Street where Cradock lost control and the car jumped the curb at Annsbury Street where it struck the victims. Police said that Cradock was slightly injured in the crash and they recovered a gun from the car.

The stolen motorcycle was recovered in the 4100 block of North Eighth Street. Rodriguez was apprehended at his residence, where police recovered three more handguns.

Police said they were not in pursuit of Cradock when he sped off.

A huge memorial of assorted stuffed animals, candles and flowers grew at the crash site, surrounded by family members, friends and neighbors, all of whom expressed their outrage.

“I was at home when my wife called me and told what happened,” said Arthur Anderson, an uncle of the victims. “I heard it was a car chase but what I don’t understand is why would the cops chase a car in this kind of vicinity, it doesn’t make sense. To see them go like this.”

Opening arguments in the trial are expected to begin later in the week.