Arrest in deadly hit and run in Newark

Saleem Wright, 24, is accused in a deadly hit and run in Newark where a 5-year-old girl was killed.

July 24, 2010 7:59:20 AM PDT
A man police are calling a known drug dealer is under arrest in the hit-and-run death of a 5-year-old girl in Newark.

Julianne Vega was killed while crossing the street with her older sister.

Police say 24-year-old Saleem Wright turned himself in and is being held on $150,000 bail. He reportedly has six prior drug arrests.

Authorities said Wright surrendered on Friday afternoon to Rev. Ron Christian at Christian Love Baptist Church in Irvington. The surrender was coordinated by the Wright's attorney, Gerald Saluti, and the Essex County Prosecutor's Office.

Wright has been charged with death by auto, leaving the scene of a fatal accident and endangering an injured victim.

Wright was transported to the Essex County Correctional Facility.

Earlier, authorities said they found a key piece of evidence -- a 2005 blue Mercedes Benz CLK convertible fitting the description of the one that struck Vega. It was registered to Wright and was found with visible front end damage at 7th Avenue and North 11th Street.

Vega was killed Thursday night at the corner of South Orange and Columbia Avenues.

"She was sweet, outgoing, only 5 years old," her mom, Jackmary Deleon, told Eyewitness News. "She had her whole life in front of her."

One neighbor said she heard a tremendous boom and immediately called 911.

Eyewitnesses say the car was flying down Columbia Avenue, possibly up to speeds of 100 miles per hour, when Vega was struck. Neighbors say cars constantly speed down the road, and that they have been asking for speed bumps for years.

"You'll see how these guys speed up through here," Deleon said. "Animals."

In this case, the driver decided not to stay at the scene.

"They just kept going," neighbor Jackie Hunt said. "They didn't even turn to see, it's very sad. It felt like I lost my child, so I know what that mother is feeling right now, herself."

"A lot of people saw something," Deleon said. "It's just they don't want to say anything."

The impact was so great that when Vega was hit, her tiny body dented the entire rear end of a minivan. She was rushed to University Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

"[The 11-year-old sister] was so upset, she was screaming 'It's my fault, it's my fault,'" one neighbor said. "But it wasn't her fault."

The Mercedes was unoccupied when it was found. Witnesses say they saw as many as four people inside.

"If you have a conscience and a heart, turn yourself in," neighbor Lashanda Washington said. "That baby didn't deserve that. She didn't even grasped life yet."

Anyone with information is asked to call Crime Stoppers anonymous tip line at 877-NWK-TIPS (877-695-8477) or 877-NWK-GUNS (877-695-4867).