Possible Murder Charge in Car Spree
DONNA DE LA CRUZ
Feb. 16, 2002
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NEW YORK (AP) _ One of the people injured in a pair of hit-and-run sprees in New York has died and the New Jersey man allegedly behind the wheel may now face a murder charge.
Ronald Popadich, 39, has been accused of going on a five-day crime rampage that included shooting two people and driving cars into 26 other victims, including the one who died Friday.
Barbara Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, said prosecutors here would present a case to a grand jury following the death of Neil Spicehandler, 41, of Massapequa Park, N.Y.
Spicehandler, one of 19 people Popadich allegedly hit with his car on Tuesday, died from complications following surgery to repair compound leg fractures, said Jasmine Collazo, a spokeswoman for St. Vincent's Hospital.
Popadich, of Garfield, N.J., is already facing attempted murder and other charges in the Sunday shooting of Lisa Gotkin, 40, also of Garfield. He appeared in court Friday in Hackensack, N.J., to face those charges.
His attorney, public defender Melody Merola, entered an innocent plea for her client, but left without commenting to reporters.
Law enforcement sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said Popadich has confessed to shooting Gotkin, shooting a cab driver Wednesday, and driving the car in the hit-and-run sprees in Manhattan on Tuesday and Thursday.
As far as investigators know, Popadich had no history of mental illness, New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said. He also had no record of violent crime.
Popadich's alleged crime spree began with Gotkin's shooting Sunday, and ended Thursday afternoon when he was arrested after he returned to the home he shares with his mother. He was being held on $5 million bail.
On Tuesday afternoon, Popadich allegedly struck 19 people with his car in six locations in midtown, along Seventh Avenue near Penn Station and Madison Square Garden.
In his abandoned car, police found a pocketbook belonging to Gotkin, along with ammunition. Once the car was traced back to Popadich, police began searching for him.
He returned to Manhattan on Wednesday, where he allegedly shot a cab driver. The driver, Gurmukh Singh, was listed in stable condition at Beth Israel Hospital.
Early on Thursday, Popadich took a cab to Secaucus, N.J., where he forced a woman at a mall to give up her car, Kelly said. Later that day, he allegedly returned to Manhattan and drove into another seven pedestrians, in the same area as Tuesday's hit-and-run.
Popadich had returned to New York, said Assistant Bergen Prosecutor James Santulli said, because ``that's where most of the people were that he wanted to hurt.''
Associated Press reporter Amy Westfeldt in Newark contributed to this report.