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Tips cited in fatal hit-run arrest

NIAGARA FALLS – Pivotal tips from the community led to the arrest of a city man accused in a hit-and-run crash last week that took the life of a 26-year-old mother, who was struck as she crossed Hyde Park Boulevard with her 6-year-old son, police said Thursday.

Francis A. Maikranz, 54, of Whitney Avenue, told investigators he did not know he had hit the mother, Nicole Rodriguez, and her child – an assertion similar to the reasoning of Dr. James Corasanti, which resulted in his recent acquittal on felony charges in the death of 18-year-old Alix Rice as she skateboarded home from her job at a local pizza shop last July in Amherst.

Niagara County District Attorney Michael A. Violante said he anticipates having to deal with a "Corasanti defense."

"It's unfortunate that we have to deal with it," Violante said, "but that issue has to be resolved. You have to understand that it's your responsibility to stop and make some attempt to investigate before you move on."

Alcohol is not believed to have been a factor in the Falls crash, and it was unclear if Maikranz was speeding, police said.

Maikranz was arrested at a Town of Niagara home just before 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and arraigned Thursday morning in City Court on charges of leaving the scene of a fatal motor vehicle accident, a felony. Judge Angelo J. Morinello set bail at $100,000. He said Maikranz was a flight risk because he did not come forward and made police search for him after the crash at 10 p.m. June 18.

Rodriguez was killed and her son suffered minor injuries. He was treated at Women & Children's Hospital in Buffalo and is now in the custody of his father.

The Rodriguez family sat in City Court on Thursday, hugging each other for comfort, as Maikranz was led into the courtroom. He was booked Wednesday night and put on suicide watch due to his apparent medical and mental condition, police said.

Officers reported that he appeared extremely depressed and made remarks about "his life being over" after his arrest.

Maikranz entered a plea of not guilty at his arraignment. His attorney, Lawrence G. Stuart from the Niagara County Public Defender's Office, waived a preliminary hearing. The case will now go to County Court.