Unlicensed Drivers, Coddled By the Law, Kill Three More New Yorkers

In handing down a prison term of 20-to-life for Auvryn Scarlett, the garbage hauler who had stopped taking his epilepsy medication before suffering a seizure behind the wheel and killing two pedestrians last year, Justice Richard Carruthers described the convicted as "a time bomb ready to explode at any moment on the streets of New York." The same could be said of the countless number of motorists roaming the city at any given moment though their licenses have been suspended or revoked due to a history of recklessness. Two such drivers killed three people in separate crashes over the Thanksgiving holiday.

sabados.jpgPeter and Lillian Sabados. Photo via Daily News
Sheldon Reid had a prior conviction for driving without a license when he struck 40-year-old Sonya Powell, as her fiance watched in horror, on Baychester Avenue in the Wakefield section of the Bronx last Friday. Forty-eight hours earlier, elderly husband and wife Peter and Lillian Sabados were run down by a hit-and-run driver as they walked to Thanksgiving Mass. Their killer, 26-year-old Allmir Lekperic, had a string of at least 29 license suspensions since 2006, according to the Times.

Clearly, Powell and the Sabadoses aren't just victims of individuals, but institutional failure. Even in those relatively rare instances when the system identifies drivers who are a menace, there is no mechanism to stop them from getting right back behind the wheel. Revoking a license is no deterrent. In both cases this weekend, incarceration, or at the very least the impounding of vehicles, could have saved lives.

These crimes also expose a failure of political leadership. Regardless of the toll recidivist illegal drivers continue to exact in death and misery, Mayor Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly have shown no apparent interest. As for the City Council, a resolution urging state action was unceremoniously dismissed just days after nine-year-old Ibrihim Ahmed was killed by an unlicensed driver last January, and has not seen action since. A cursory Streetsblog archive search revealed three additional local fatalities at the hands of unlicensed drivers in the interim eleven months, including pedestrians Dorothea Wallace and 9-year-old Joshua Ganzfried.

We commented last week that, while a positive step, the relatively narrow focus of Leandra's Law leaves New Yorkers, adults and kids alike, unprotected from dangerous drivers whose negligence does not involve alcohol or drugs. As reported by Gotham Gazette, a law prompted by the death of Ibrihim Ahmed would attach stiffer penalties to the prevalent and often deadly crime of driving without a license. The bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Robert Sweeney, would classify vehicular assault and manslaughter as felonies in cases where a driver's license has been suspended or revoked. This would mark a major shift for New York State in that it would apply in instances of crashes where the driver is not under the influence.

When Alexander Aponte was charged only for driving without a license in the killing of Ahmed, we asked Queens DA Richard Brown's office for an explanation. "What we do is charge by the laws on the books," a spokesperson said. "If Albany changes the law based on a victim's injury or death, we would change the way we charge." In the absence of guidance from the mayor, police commissioner and City Council members, perhaps future Public Advocate Bill de Blasio or Manhattan DA Cy Vance could fill the void by joining Assembly Member Sweeney and others in a serious campaign to keep unlicensed drivers off our streets by adopting "Ibrihim's Law," before it's too late for someone else's child, fiance, or grandparents.

As for Allmir Lekperic, the Daily News reports that he is free to drive again. For bringing two lives to a brutal premature end, Lekperic was charged with leaving the scene and driving without a license.