Four-Year-Old Killed by Hummer Shouldn’t Have Died in Vain

2007_02_hummerhit.jpgThe death of four-year-old James Jacaricce Rice at the intersection of Third Avenue and Baltic Street in Brooklyn yesterday didn't make a huge splash in the news. But it should have.

What were James and his 18-year-old aunt, Ta-Nayin St. John, doing when they were mowed down by a three-ton yellow Hummer making a turn? They were just trying to cross the street. In the crosswalk. With the light.

According to the Daily News, the driver, Ken Williams, said that the height of his vehicle prevented him from seeing the two walking in front of him. Because he stopped at the scene, and because he hadn't been drinking, it seems his only penalty will be a ticket for failure to yield. That, and having to live with the consequences of his actions.

Of course, the driver who hit and killed three-year-old Eddy Heredia last week on Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn wasn't charged with any crime either, even though he did leave the scene. He told the cops he hadn't seen the boy, and they believed him. Newsday's account of a witness who said the driver had stopped after he hit the boy, gotten out of the truck and then gotten back in to drive off apparently was not followed up.

Pedestrian fatalities needn't go unmarked. Last year in Chicago, after a little girl named Maya Hirsch was struck by a car running a stop sign, the result was an immediate crackdown on reckless motorists, fully backed by the city's mayor and police department. Maya's death also prompted proposed legislation that calls for stiffer penalties for drivers who ignore stop signs. It's called Maya's Law, and it's just moved out of committee. Chicago lawmakers are also talking about using an increase in parking meter fees to fund crosswalk-safety improvement, transit station upgrades and local shuttle bus service. All of this is causing a lively discussion among Chicago motorists and pedestrians.

But here in New York, we're instead talking on and on about Sen. Carl Kruger's proposal to ban wearing iPods when crossing the street (in fact, some news outlets seemed eager to make the iPod connection in yesterday's fatality, although there is no proof as to whether St. John was wearing hers when she and her nephew were hit). As if pedestrians bear the full responsibility for anything that happens when they let down their guard for even a moment. As if, unless they scurry across the street like hunted animals, they are somehow at fault when they are struck by cars.

Why doesn't some forward-thinking New York legislator take the horrible occasion of James's death and propose some solutions? Like stiffer penalties for drivers who hit pedestrians when failing to yield? Like traffic-calming infrastructure?

If none does, maybe New York pedestrians should consider borrowing tactics from their Seattle counterparts, who recently staged a demonstration trying to bring attention to the issue of reckless drivers.

Although you have to wonder, if a child getting crushed to death by a Hummer doesn't get people's attention, what will?

Photo via Gothamist