At Upper West Side Vigil, Families Mourn 9-Year-Old Lost to Traffic Violence

Hours after Mayor de Blasio unveiled his administration’s approach to sharply reducing traffic deaths yesterday, hundreds of New Yorkers gathered at an Upper West Side intersection to mourn 9-year-old Cooper Stock, who was killed last Friday by a turning taxi driver while crossing West End Avenue with his father.

Koffi Komlani, the driver who killed Stock, has received only a summons for failure to yield to a pedestrian, and has not faced criminal charges or disciplinary action from TLC. The case remains under investigation by NYPD and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.

“The fact that people can drive into people and kill them and get away with a traffic violation, which I understand is commonplace, is utterly appalling,” said Barron Lerner, Stock’s uncle, who was joined by the victim’s mother, Dana Lerner, at the vigil. ”I can’t imagine to live in a society that would tolerate that,” he said.

Julie Dermer, who lives in the same building as the Stock family and whose son was friends with Cooper, reminded the crowd that Upper West Siders have been advocating for safer streets for years, including a 2008 report with recommendations for 97th Street, where Cooper was killed. “The response has been, ‘We’ll study it,’” she said. “I’m not an urban planner, but this doesn’t seem like rocket science.”

Last year, Community Board 7 requested an honorary street renaming to memorialize 4-year-old Ariel Russo, who was killed by an unlicensed teen driver, but the same community board has dragged its feet for months and even years on safety fixes for major streets like Amsterdam Avenue. ”This community does not need more streets named after children who were killed by cars,” said Julie Kowitz Margolies, who also lives in the same building as the Stock family. ”What we need is safer streets that will keep our children safe and alive.”

Photo: Stephen Miller

Comptroller Scott Stringer was among the elected officials who attended the vigil. Photo: Stephen Miller

Elected officials at last night’s vigil included Comptroller Scott Stringer, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Assembly Member Daniel O’Donnell, and Council Members Helen Rosenthal, Mark Levine and Ydanis Rodriguez.

Rosenthal and Levine, who represent the area where the two fatalities occurred, sent a letter [PDF] yesterday to DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione asking her to implement short-term fixes to the intersection where Stock was killed, including a longer head-start for pedestrians crossing the street.

“We have a new government in this city, and we’re ready to be held accountable,” Stringer said before urging drivers to drive responsibly or not at all. “If you can’t drive, get out of your car and stop hurting our children. Enough is enough,” he said. “I’m angry as a parent like all of you, and we’re not going to let this happen any more in our city.”

“This area unfortunately has been studied to death, and we need to work with the community board and the DOT to make the changes,” Brewer said, before reiterating her support for lower speed limits on residential streets. “Every single driver in the city of New York should be going at 20 miles per hour, not 40, and not 50 or 60,” she said. “We also need to do something about trucks and buses; they’re too big and they’re too heavy.”

“This is a citywide issue,” said Rodriguez, who is in the running to chair the council’s transportation committee. “With the leadership of Speaker Mark-Viverito and Mayor Bill de Blasio, especially with the plan that he presented today, we will be working together to be sure that we are addressing this issue that affects the whole city.”

Last night’s vigil also memorialized 73-year-old Alexander Shear, who was killed by a tour bus driver at 96th Street and Broadway not even an hour before Stock was killed.

Organizers estimated that approximately 250 people attended the event, stretching nearly a block down West End Avenue.