By Aliza Appelbaum
Drana Nikac, 67, who was struck and killed by a drunk-driving off-duty cop on the morning of Oct. 30, was a fixture of Kingsbridge, often seen collecting bottles and cans from the trash to recycle.
“She was such a special person, so loving and so involved with her family,” said Sara Juncaj, 25, one of Ms. Nikac’s grandchildren. She said that Ms. Nikac, an Albanian from Montenegro, immigrated to the United States sometime between 15 and 20 years ago. She was very devoted to religion, her granddaughter said, and spent a lot of time with her family, including her three children and nine grandchildren. She often joked about her cancollecting hobby, Ms. Juncaj said.
The police detective involved, Kevin C. Spellman, is a Riverdale resident, with his home on Douglas Avenue. Det. Spellman, a 22-year- NYPD veteran, had desks at several precincts around the city and sometimes worked out of the 50th Precinct, sources said.
Det. Spellman, who worked in the Bronx Fugitive Task Force, got off work at about midnight, police said. He was on his way home after a night out with fellow officers at Pauline’s Cabaret, a bar frequented by many of the Five-O’s officers at 5757 Broadway. Ms. Nikac, of Irwin Ave. was killed at 6:30 a.m., just blocks from the bar, at Kingsbridge Avenue between West 232nd and 233rd streets.
The family is not yet focusing on the circumstances of Ms. Nikac’s death, Ms. Juncaj said.
“Of course it’s awful no matter what, but we’re really not at that stage right now,” she said. “Right now we’re grieving.”
Det. Spellman, 42, was driving his grey government Chevy sedan when he slammed into Ms. Nikac, hitting her so hard that she was lifted off her feet, traveling several feet in the air, witnesses reported. Blood was visible on the street hours after the accident, with firefighters eventually using hoses to wash it away.
Ms. Nikac was pronounced dead at St. Barnabas Medical Center shortly thereafter.
Det. Spellman “had a strong smell of alcohol, his speech was slurred, his eyes were glassy and he was unsteady on his feet” after the collision, according to the criminal complaint filed by the Bronx District Attorney’s office.
Police say he mistook Ms. Nikac for a man.
“I didn’t see that guy,” Det. Spellman told officers at the scene, according to the complaint. “He came out of nowhere.”
The veteran detective refused a Breathalyzer test at the scene and again at the station house. Nearly five and a half hours later, police drew Det. Spellman’s blood to test its alcohol content, authorities said. Police needed to wait for a warrant to draw the blood.
Det. Spellman’s blood alcohol content was 0.21 more than five hours after the accident, the NYPD said Friday. That is nearly three times New York’s legal limit of .08.
Two witnesses, who say they saw the immediate aftermath of the incident, said they felt the detective was not treated like an ordinary suspect.
“They didn’t arrest [the detective] right away or anything,” said Ron Jerome, 21. Mr. Jerome said he saw Det. Spellman walking around and talking on a mobile phone. “If it was a citizen, he would have been in cuffs by then. The woman was dead. That’s not right.”
Det. Spellman is charged with criminally negligent homicide, second-degree vehicular homicide and driving while intoxicated. He was released on $100,000 bail, having put up $25,000 in cash.
“It’s a shocking thing to have happen on your block,” said Elena Cruz, 35, who lives across the street from where the crash happened. “It’s sad that two neighborhood families had their lives ruined. I think about it every time I walk past the spot.”
Others in the neighborhood felt the same way, and on the day Ms. Nikac was killed, an impromptu memorial was placed on the sidewalk near the place she died. It was made up of several lit memorial candles and fresh flowers.
“Our family really appreciates everyone putting out the candles where she was killed and the whole memorial,” Ms. Juncaj said. “It really means a lot to all of us.”
— Jason Fields and Kevin Deutsch contributed reporting to this story.