LOCKPORT – Nicole Rodriguez died almost four months ago when she was hit by a car while trying to cross a street in Niagara Falls.

But more than 20 of her friends and relatives made sure her presence was felt Wednesday when the man accused of driving the car that hit her and then fleeing the scene came to court to answer the charges against him.

Francis A. Maikrantz, 54, of Whitney Avenue, pleaded not guilty before Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas to charges of leaving the scene of a serious physical injury crash, leaving the scene of a fatality crash and tampering with evidence. Maikrantz was indicted by a grand jury in the hit-and-run crash that killed Rodriguez and injured her 6-year-old son as they crossed Hyde Park Boulevard in Niagara Falls on June 18. A pretrial hearing was set for Dec. 19 and a trial for March 4.

Maikrantz has been free on $100,000 bail that was imposed in City Court on June 28. His clean, well-groomed appearance Wednesday was markedly different from the man on suicide watch who was led into City Court after his arrest. His eyes remained downcast throughout the arraignment, never looking at the Rodriguez family and looking at the judge only when she spoke to him. He was represented by attorney Dominic Saraceno, who has been assigned the case by the public defender’s office.

The family and friends of Rodriguez who were in the courtroom remained silent during the proceeding, save for a single clap that was heard when the judge ordered Maikrantz to turn over his driver’s license and suspended his driving privileges.

“If I find out that you have been driving, for any reason, you will immediately be remanded to Niagara County Jail,” said Farkas.

Farkas asked about the possibility of driving while intoxicated charges, but Deputy District Attorney Theodore A. Brenner explained that Maikrantz was not brought into custody until nine days after the crash. Niagara Falls Police said after the arrest that alcohol was not believed to be an issue.

Brenner said that at 10 p.m. on June 18 at Hyde Park Boulevard and Jerauld Avenue, Maikrantz came down the overpass and hit a woman, killing her and injuring her son, who was thrown 50 feet.

“Then he just drives away. It was not until nine days later that we found the striking vehicle in a garage being repaired. The windshield had been taken out,” Brenner said.

Niagara Falls Police said that when Maikrantz was arrested, he said he did not know he had hit Rodriguez.

Following Wednesday’s arraignment, Brenner said Rodriguez’s son, who was treated and released from Women & Children’s Hospital, is still recovering from his injuries and needs to wear a metal breast plate to protect him from further injuries.