Scranton Woman Forever Changed By Wilkes-Barre Shooting
Nichole Santiago floored the gas pedal as the flurry of bullets rang out on the dark, unfamiliar side street in Wilkes-Barre one February night.
Santiago didn’t realize she was hit until she noticed she could not feel her legs as she abruptly stopped the car in the middle of South Main Street to summon help. A bullet tore through Santiago’s spinal cord, paralyzing her from the waist down.
City police say the Scranton woman was one of three people shot Feb. 12 inside a car during a botched drug robbery on Sullivan Street near Sambourne Street, one of the most notorious areas for criminal activity in Wilkes-Barre.
Santiago insists she had no idea the people she was driving had ill intentions. She now must pay the price for the rest of her life.
“I didn’t know I was hit until I drove away. When I got to the main road, I was like ‘Alanah, I can’t feel my legs. I think I got shot,’” Santiago, 21, recalled in a recent telephone interview.
She was talking to Alanah Sobrinski, 19, her longtime girlfriend who was sitting in the front passenger seat. Sobrinski also was shot in the back.
The three backseat passengers — whom Santiago said she met online less than a week earlier after she advertised car rides for hire — decided to flee the scene. One of them, Miles Singleton, 20, was shot in the leg. They tried to convince Sobrinski to join them.
“She said, ‘No, I’m not leaving,’” Santiago recalled.
Santiago doesn’t remember much else before slipping out of consciousness.
“When I woke up, I was at the hospital,” she said.
After several surgeries, Santiago was transferred to Geisinger Encompass Health Rehabilitation Hospital in Danville. She is slated to be released this week to go live with her mother and stepfather in Scranton.
During her time in the hospital, Santiago turned 21 and then her biological father died. But she also received a big, happy surprise.
Sobrinski proposed to her, getting down on one knee at the hospital and giving her an engagement ring. She happily said yes.
Santiago said she feared their three-year relationship would be jeopardized because of her paralysis.
“That was one of my biggest thoughts that I had,” Santiago said. “But she said I’m stuck with her for the rest of my life.”
The couple had been seeking to get an apartment together prior to the shooting.
Santiago and Sobrinski were working as candy inspectors for the Barry Callebaut factory in Dunmore, which manufacturers Gertrude Hawk products.
They also sought to become Uber drivers, except for one problem. Uber requires cars used for its service to be 10-years-old or newer, but Sobrinski’s car was a 2000 Toyota Corolla. So they instead posted their ride-for-hire services on social media as “Cash Uber.”
Six days before the shooting, Singleton responded that he needed a ride, Santiago said.
Santiago said she picked Singleton up in Scranton, then picked up two juvenile girls in Duryea and drove them to a hotel in Pittston Twp. She was paid $15, she said.
On Feb. 12, she said Singleton again asked for a ride, this time to Wilkes-Barre. He agreed to pay $25, she said. Santiago then picked up the same two juvenile females.
While police have said the entire group knew of a plot to rob a marijuana dealer in Wilkes-Barre, Santiago insists that’s not true.
“If I would have known they were going to do that, I wouldn’t have given them a ride. I was supposed to baby-sit my nephew that night,” she said.
Santiago says she stays out of trouble, learning her lesson after a 2016 arrest. In that case, she was involved in a public dispute in Dunmore with someone who wanted to fight her and police later found a marijuana pipe in her car.
She pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and possession of drug paraphernalia and later served 13 months of probation, according to court records.
Now, she is sentenced to a lifetime of paralysis.
“I wish I never went. I wish I never gave them the ride. I wish I knew something bad was going to happen, so I would have said ‘No, I’m not taking you there,’” Santiago said.
Police say Singleton, who was in a rear passenger seat, and the shooter got into a brief argument before the shooter fired multiple times into the car.
“I want him to be able to see what he did to me for no reason in a split second,” Santiago said of the gunman.
As of now, the shooting suspect, Terence Bradley, 19, of Wilkes-Barre, is the only person charged in the case, but police have not ruled out charges against occupants of the vehicle.
Bradley is charged with aggravated assault and reckless endangerment. He is awaiting a preliminary hearing set for next month.
After fleeing the scene, Singleton and the two juvenile females were identified as “persons of interest” who police wanted to talk to about the shooting. They were on the lam for at least a week, but police eventually tracked them down.
Santiago had little to say about the group, which left her wounded in the middle of South Main Street, not knowing if she’d survive her gunshot wound. One of them even stole her cell phone, which was found along a local highway by work crews, she said.
“I would ask them why? Why leave? If it was the other way around, and they got shot, I would do the best I can to make sure they are OK,” she said.
Doctors have told Santiago there is a 90-percent chance she won’t regain feeling or use of her legs.
Previously not a religious person, Santiago said she’s turned to prayer.
“I pray every night. I hope a miracle comes that one day I’ll wake up and be able to feel my toes and walk out of bed,” Santiago said.
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HOW TO HELP
Family and friends are trying to raise money for shooting victim, Nichole Santiago, 21, who is paralyzed from the waist down.
A donation page can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/2gphh5-starting-a-new-chapter