Teen driver pleads guilty in crash that killed 4-year-old Ariel Russo

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MANHATTAN (PIX11) -- In a day of unexpected turns in New York State Supreme Court, Franklin Reyes Jr. pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the death of 4-year-old Ariel Russo and to other related charges, avoiding trial in the high-profile case.

In a stunning reversal earlier in the day, a judge pulled his guilty plea after Reyes -- accused of hitting and killing Russo in 2013 as she walked with her grandmother on the Upper West Side -- tried to defend his actions.

Reyes had agreed to plead guilty on six counts, including manslaughter. But he did not want to admit to assaulting an officer during an Aug. 31, 2014, encounter in which he allegedly dragged the officer with his car.  Because of that refusal, the judge said he would pull Reyes' guilty plea and the case will proceed to trial. After the surprise reversal, the defendant's mother was forcibly removed from the courtroom, screaming.

Franklin Reyes appears in court March 4, 2015. He is accused of hitting and killing 4-year-old Ariel Russo in 2013.  (Photo: Pool)

Franklin Reyes appears in court March 4, 2015. He is accused of hitting and killing 4-year-old Ariel Russo in 2013. (Photo: Pool)

The judge left the courtroom before adjourning the case, asking to speak with the lawyers involved. They reconvened hours later and Reyes pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the second degree as well as to charges of unlawful fleeing of a police officer and escape.

As part of the plea deal, Reyes faces a minimum sentence of 3 to 9 years behind bars.

Now 18, Reyes is accused of driving without a license during the fatal crash. He allegedly was fleeing from police when his SUV jumped the curb and fatally struck Russo near West 97th Street and Amsterdam Avenue.

Reyes is being tried as an adult, even though he was under 18 when the crash occurred. He was originally given youthful offender status and offered a reduced sentence, but Reyes failed to stay out of trouble while free on bail.

He was arrested twice in 2014, once for allegedly looting a dead woman’s apartment alongside his father and another time on suspicion of dragging a police officer with his car.

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