A driver angry about being asked not to blow cigarette smoke in the direction of children outside a New York 7-Eleven allegedly plowed into a family, hitting six kids and killing their mother, who was pregnant, before he was arrested at gunpoint by police, according to officials and witness accounts.
"Four years ago, I buried my son," said the victim's grieving mother. "Now I have to bury my daughter. No parent should have to do that because of an animal."
Police said the driver, 35-year-old Jason Mendez of Washingtonville, intentionally drove into the group in front of the convenience store on Central Highway in Garnerville just before 2 p.m. Wednesday. He then reversed and backed over them before smashing into the front of the store, authorities said.
When officers arrived, Mendez allegedly refused to drop a knife he was holding; police had to stun him and arrest him at gunpoint, officials said.
The 32-year-old mother, identified by family as Melissa DeLoatch, died from her injuries. Her 35-year-old husband was taken to Westchester Medical Center, along with their 2-year-old child, and both have serious but non-life threatening injuries. The other victims, the couple's children, who range in age from less than a year to 10 years old, were taken to Montefiore Nyack Hospital with non-life threatening injuries, police said.
DeLoatch's mother, Joan Christopher, said her daughter had thrown herself in front of the car to shield her children.
"My grandchildren call her 'the hero,'" said Christopher. "'Mommy is the hero.'"
Witnesses of the crash said they saw a woman lying on the ground immediately after the crash, and she looked severely injured. A baby stroller also lay mangled.
Cindy Schnalzer told News 4 New York, "The baby was was crying, and there was like an 11-year-old girl that came out, and she was with her father out here, and the father was going ballistic wanting to know where the guy was."
"I heard the father, he was telling the cops, 'I told him not to blow smoke in front of my kids,'" she said.
Mendez pleaded not guilty late Wednesday to charges of second-degree murder and seven counts of second-degree attempted murder.
His attorney said in court his client just lost his cellphone repair job a week ago. Mendez himself said nothing to reporters as he was led from a police car and into the courthouse in handcuffs.
A vacate order was posted on the store early Thursday, and people were stopping by to leave flowers and candles. Christopher said the support is much needed as the DeLoatch children try to pick up the pieces without their mother.
"My only daughter. My best friend," she said. "She wasn't only my daughter, she was my best friend."