LEVITTOWN (WABC) --The hit-and-run driver who killed a developmentally disabled teenage girl on Long Island early Sunday has surrendered to police, according to authorities.
Michael Elardo, 48, turned himself in and is facing charges of leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in death after he allegedly struck 13-year-old Bryanna Soplin, who suffered from Down syndrome.
Nassau County police say Soplin was crossing Hempstead Turnpike in Levittown while trying to visit her grandparents just after midnight when she was hit.
Elardo, a father of four and former NYPD officer who was a 13-year veteran and is now on disability, appeared in court Tuesday and is being held on $1 million bond.
Sources say he was once honored with an award for saving an infant's life
The defense attorney argued that Elardo didn't know had hit anyone and went to police 10 hours after the accident to prove he wasn't involved, not realizing that he actually was.
Elardo's four children and other family members were in court Tuesday to support him.
"He's just an awesome person, always does everything right. This is just a horrible accident, that's all it is," said the suspect's uncle, Roger Nicoletti.
All of this is no comfort to Bryanna's mother, Jennifer Curuchaga.
"At least you would have stopped if it was a thing, if it was a person, if it was an animal or a raccoon, you would have stopped," said Curuchaga.
Elardo's attorney says Elardo thought he had hit a construction cone while traveling on Hempstead Turnpike over the weekend, not realizing he had hit a person.
"He voluntarily gave his car to the police within 10 hours of the incident because he didn't think he was involved and he wanted to rule out the possibility that he was," said attorney Michael Dergarabedian.
Bryanna's uncle, Charlie Curuchaga, told Eyewitness News that his niece wanted to go to his parents' on Saturday, but her parents told her to wait until Sunday when the entire family would be together for Father's Day.
Bryanna was still determined to make the two-mile trip to Hicksville, and she apparently sneaked out of her home while everyone was asleep and was crossing the eight-lane roadway when the blue Chrysler Town and Country minivan slammed into her at Gardiners Avenue. The driver kept going.
"She was the perfect girl," grandmother Patty Curuchaga said. "She was beautiful and always smiled."
By the time her mother realized she was gone, it was too late.
"She went upstairs to look for her, to see her kids were OK, I don't know why," Charlie Curuchaga said. "I guess as a parent, it's instinct I think, and realized she was missing...Even if you yelled at her, even if you said no to her, she would still say I love you. That's what I miss. That's what I'm always going to miss."
Bryanna was struck on one of the most dangerous highways on Long Island. Hempstead Turnpike is wide, and very few cars seem to drive at or even close to the 40 miles per hour speed limit.
"This road has become a death road," neighbor Vincent Cannavina said. "I'm telling you right now, because you can go down this road and see the monuments on the poles, so it's a terrible thing. I'd seen the mother last night. It was heartbreaking."
Ramiro Pay is Bryanna's stepfather, and he expressed the family's pain.
"She was very happy, a lovely girl," he said. "And all my family are devastated."