By: Keith S. Shikowitz
Anyone who has ever gotten into a car in the summer when the windows have been closed for a long period of time have felt the unbearable heat contained within. Throughout the years, we have heard stories from across the country where children and animals have been left in cars with the windows closed during hot weather. Many times, the end result is the death of those left in the car from the heat.
This tragedy has hit Rockland County after Juan Rodriguez went to work on Friday July 26, leaving his 1 year – old twins Luna and Phoenix in the car and not discovering the result of his action until eight hours later when he left work to go home.
His Attorney Joey Jackson described Rodriguez as a veteran who served this country, who has been deployed, who has been out there and who after that service and during that service has helped homeless veterans, veterans with HIV, veterans with cancer. He’s helped emotionally disturbed people. Mr. Rodriguez is heartbroken as is his beautiful family by this. We hope to repair and to heal in the best way we know how. So that they can move forward from this tragedy and that they can live their lives productively.
Rodriguez was accompanied by Jackson, his wife as well as other family and friends and carrying his 4 year – old son, appeared in Bronx Supreme Court on August 1, 2019 on charges of criminally negligent homicide and manslaughter in the deaths of his 1 year old twins.
The Judge presiding over the case, Collins did not allow cameras in the courtroom for his appearance. He arrived at the courtroom at 9:47 am. The hearing did not last long. By 10:00 Jackson was holding a press conference outside the courthouse.
Jackson opened the press conference by stating, “The purpose of this hearing was to determine whether or not the grand jury has been seated.” He went on to explain that the grand jury is a 23 – person panel with 16 making up a quorum (amount of people needed to be legally allowed to proceed with the issue) and that 12 are needed to vote out an indictment. As of the press conference there had been no grand jury action. “We are speaking to the District Attorney’s office to convey to them, what I think they know and understand, that this was a horrific and terrible tragedy. Obviously, my client Mr. Rodriguez, his wife, his mom and his dad, and his beautiful family, his 16 year – old, 12 year – old and 4 year – old are completely crushed by this incident.” He added
According to Jackson the District Attorney is conducting due diligence in this case, which means that they are evaluating all of the facts, all of the evidence, and all of the circumstances. “Everyone should be mindful of the fact that Mr. Rodriguez gave a full statement, including a timeline and history of how this happened. Mr. Rodriguez consented to a full search of his phone, his car. He has nothing at all to harbor or hide other than to feel misery and sorrow about what happened in this case.”
“The DA Darcel Clark is someone I know. Someone who is community minded, very competent and very fair. We are appealing to her sense of justice to do what we believe is the right thing and that is to dismiss these charges.”
Jackson and Rodriguez understand that they will continue to evaluate all aspects of the case and they welcome their evaluation and believe that at the conclusion of them evaluating all of the facts, all of the evidence and everything, they will come to the conclusion that this was a horrible tragedy.
It seems that advances to make people safer don’t happen until after a tragedy such as this. Jackson stated that Mr. Rodriguez and his family will certainly be dedicating their lives to the cause of insuring that this does not happen to anyone else again. They are taking action with the New York Assembly to pass legislation that could and would be designed to insure that car manufacturers outfit cars with mechanisms so as to alert parents, alert anyone in the car, that there will be children that are there so that this doesn’t happen again.
“I, yesterday had the privilege of speaking to the speaker of the New York State Assembly Mr. Paul Hastings, about this legislation.” Jackson told reporters.
Jackson went on to mention to everyone that this is not exclusive to New York, this has happened throughout the country. There was a record high 52 deaths last year relating to this issue. My client and his family will be working with the legislature when they gain the strength to do so, in insuring that other people are protected.” With the fact that this has happened so many other times, the question remains, Why weren’t safety devices to prevent this from continuing to happen not pushed for until now?
“Finally, I want to say that my client is so gratified for outpouring of love and support that his wife, mom, dad, children and family, the of the community, so many friends and loved ones who know who he is.”
Jackson fielded a few questions from the reporters. The first asked, “What is the percentage of DA’s across the country that have dropped these types of charges?”
Jackson did not give a numerical percentage of cases such as this in which the charges have been dropped. He stated, “So, in various jurisdictions when these incidents occur, what DA’s throughout the country do, is just what Ms. Clarke is doing. They evaluate all of the facts. And in other instances, as you can see, it’s not me speaking you can research it yourself. There have been instances where cases just like this have been dropped around the country.”
He paused for a few seconds to let that information sink in. He continued, “Obviously, the DA wants to ensure that there is no crime here, no intent, no criminality. We believe that’s exactly what they’ll find.”
He described Rodriguez’s feelings on the matter stating that he is heart wrenched and heartbroken. He then explained his first meeting with Rodriguez. “I can never express in words, when I first met Mr. Rodriguez, under the most horrific of circumstances, how he appeared to me. I could not even have a conversation with my client for the longest of time because he could not compose himself.”
According to Jackson Rodriguez is getting all of the help and treatment that can possibly be gotten for him. “His family is so grateful and so thankful for all of his friends, all of his family, all of his fraternity brothers and sisters, everyone that knows him, knows the humane and beautiful person he is who have come out to say to him that this is a horrible thing, but we understand.”
They are hopeful that this is not going to be prosecuted. They know that the DA is going to do her job. “We encourage her to do that and as you heard in the courtroom, I waved my client’s right to a speedy trial so that the investigation can proceed. That the DA can dot every I and cross every T to come to the only conclusion that we believe is fair, sensible and reasonable and that is that this was a horrible, horrific accident.”
Reporters were looking for a statement from Rodriguez or the family. Jackson informed them that there will be a time when Mr. Rodriguez and his family will be in a position to make a statement. Today will not be that day.
Another reporter pressed the issue on a statement from his client by asking “Is there anything they’d like to say?”
Jackson responded, “There is nothing that Mr. Rodriguez will say. There is a lot that he wishes to say. There is nothing that he or his family will be saying now. Perhaps that will change in the immediate future. I would ask the press to understand and at least allow them to bury their beautiful children before we expect them to be in a position to address the press about anything.”
Jackson concluded by telling the reporters that he is willing to work with the DA as this case moves forward to answer all of her questions and to be available to her any time of the day or night and to her investigators. “We will do all we need to do to have them understand that this epidemic is something across the country and with this horrible incident we can help save lives moving forward in the future and that’s what Mr. Rodriguez and his family are going to be dedicating their lives to do. To see that no one would have endure the hardship that this family is enduring as a result of what occurred.”
The funeral for the children was held on August 2. Rodriguez is due back in court on 8/27. The purpose of that proceeding will again be to determine whether a grand jury will be convened to indict Mr. Rodriguez. “We are hopeful that will not be the case.”