Victims’ Families to Morgenthau: Prosecute Driver for Deadly Negligence

On the morning of January 22, Diego Martinez and Hayley Ng were walking with their preschool class on East Broadway when an unattended delivery van jumped the curb in reverse and killed them. The three-ton vehicle had been left double-parked and idling by its operator before it backed onto the sidewalk with deadly force. To date, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau has taken no action to prosecute the driver.

About 70 New Yorkers joined the families of Hayley and Diego today and called on the DA to convene a grand jury to investigate the case. Gathered outside the DA's office in Lower Manhattan, they made an impassioned plea for justice.

"I cannot understand why the Manhattan District Attorney refuses to prosecute," said Hayley's cousin, Lauren Ng, on behalf of the victim's mother, May Ng. "Accidents happen, but someone still bears the burden of responsibility. What kind of city is this that does not protect its most vulnerable citizens?"

The public servants who oversee the justice system seldom prosecute deadly drivers unless drugs or alcohol are involved, despite the human toll they exact. Traffic violence claims the life of a New Yorker, on average, every 36 hours, and vehicles injure more than 10,000 pedestrians and cyclists every year, according to DMV statistics cited by Transportation Alternatives. "We want our district attorney to prosecute dangerous and negligent drivers as aggressively as drunk drivers," said TA director Paul White. "The driver didn't mean to kill those children, but by not prosecuting, we're sending the message that it's okay to operate heavy machinery on the streets of New York without due care."

Relatives of Diego and Hayley say the DA's office has told them that their "hands are tied" in this case. But existing statutes for criminal negligence could be used to prosecute drivers in this set of circumstances, said Jon Adler, head of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, speaking on behalf of the victims' families. "We cannot turn our backs and condone reckless driving," Adler said. "A reasonable person would turn off the vehicle. When you do that, it's a paper weight; when you don't, it's a killing machine."

Video: Elizabeth Press