Trial begins in death of mother who railed against MS-13 after daughter's murder

BRENTWOOD, Long Island (WABC) -- The trial of a driver accused of running over and killing an anti-gang activist whose daughter was killed by MS-13 got underway on Long Island Thursday.

AnnMarie Drago is charged with criminally negligent homicide, petit larceny, and criminal mischief in the September 2018 death of Evelyn Rodriguez, who was struck and killed while setting up a memorial in Brentwood to mark the second anniversary of her 16-year-old daughter's murder.

The deaths of Kayla Cuevas and her 15-year-old friend Nisa Mickens sparked Rodriguez into becoming a leading voice against street gangs.

President Donald Trump recognized Rodriguez during the State of the Union address in 2018.

Prosecutors allege that Drago stole some items in the memorial and then intentionally destroyed another part of it. She was reportedly trying to sell her mother's home, which is located near the memorial.

They say Rodriguez confronted Drago about it, which is when she was allegedly run over.

"The defendant saw Evelyn Rodriguez," prosecutor Maggie Bopp said. "The defendant heard Evelyn Rodriguez, and the defendant felt Evelyn Rodriguez as she knocked her down and ran her over."

News 12 Long Island reporter Eileen Lehpamer was there to cover the vigil and frantically called 911.

"Evelyn Rodriguez was just run over," she can be heard screaming on the call.

The defense insists that Drago was only trying to escape after Rodriguez and her companion flew into a rage.

"She is scared to death of these people and what they are going to do," defense attorney Stephen Kunken said. "There was only one way to escape from this onslaught. She did not intend to cause harm to anybody. It was a tragic accident...You either fight the situation or you try to get away from it. That's what she was trying to do."

The entire incident was captured on video, which will be shown to the jury.

Drago faces up to four years in prison if she's convicted.

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