Mother of Cooper Stock: NYPD Must Hold Reckless Cab Drivers Accountable

Update: According to a spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio, today’s scheduled bill signing was postponed.

After a Wednesday hearing where he was joined by council members and department heads, Mayor de Blasio is scheduled to sign a package of bills today aimed at improving traffic safety. Though its signing will come later due to a scheduling conflict, one bill sent to the mayor by the council was Intro 171, also known as “Cooper’s Law.”

Cooper Stock. Photo: Barron Lerner via ##http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/24/treat-reckless-driving-like-drunk-driving/##New York Times##

Cooper Stock. Photo: Barron Lerner via New York Times

The bill’s namesake, 9-year-old Cooper Stock, was fatally struck by a cab driver in an Upper West Side crosswalk in January. His father, Richard Stock, was injured in the collision.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission said Koffi Komlani’s probationary hack license won’t be renewed when it expires in July. Regardless, though Komlani has reportedly not driven a cab since the day of the crash, for now he remains in good standing with the TLC, despite the fact that he drove into two people who were crossing the street legally with sufficient speed to cause grave harm.

“The TLC did nothing,” said Cooper’s mother Dana Lerner. “They did nothing. They didn’t take his license. They didn’t do anything.”

According to the New York Post, the TLC can currently suspend hack licenses for 30 days only when a cab driver has six or more points, and can’t revoke a license until a driver has more than 10 points. Summonses for failure to yield and running a red light add three points to a hack license, a reckless driving summons adds five points, and a ticket for driving from 31 to 40 miles per hour over the speed limit adds eight points.

Reports said Komlani had no prior violations on his record. A summons for failure to yield is still pending, according to Lerner, and Komlani was not charged by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.

When Cooper’s Law takes effect, the TLC will be allowed to suspend or revoke hack licenses of cab drivers who cause critical injury or death as a result of breaking traffic laws. But as we reported in May, penalties will depend on whether NYPD issues charges or summonses after a crash. As it stands, police investigate only a fraction of serious crashes, and fewer than 1 percent of New York City drivers who injure and kill pedestrians and cyclists are cited for careless driving.

Lerner has seen the data on NYPD enforcement of state vulnerable user laws, which the department says it can’t apply unless the Collision Investigation Squad is dispatched or an officer witnesses a violation. “That’s the key issue,” Lerner said. “If the NYPD doesn’t enforce, none of these laws have any meaning.”

Since Cooper was killed, Lerner has devoted her time to doing whatever she can to ensure what happened to her family doesn’t happen to someone else’s. She is involved in Families for Safe Streets, which has called on state lawmakers to lower the city’s default speed limit. She said Cooper’s Law, drafted and introduced by her local council member, Helen Rosenthal, is “just the beginning.”

“I think at the time the idea of getting people off the streets immediately was the first thing that I could even think of, because I literally was feeling such trauma at the idea that this guy was out there driving around. I thought, ‘This guy can drive away and hit someone else.’ And the idea of that happening was so unbearable to me.”

It’s true — today a cabbie can essentially drive away from the scene of a fatality, free to keep picking up fares. The cab driver who killed Timothy Keith, another child, was reportedly not summonsed. Nor were the cabbies who killed Kelly Gordon in April, or the one who last summer severed the leg of tourist Sian Green. Since NYPD didn’t ticket them and Vance and former Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes filed no charges, even with Cooper’s Law in effect, all would theoretically be allowed to keep their hack licenses.

Lerner expects to be there when the mayor signs the bill named after her son. “Given the chance to speak to de Blasio I will say to him, ‘Can you tell me how you plan on enforcing Cooper’s Law, and how you plan on enforcing Elle’s Law and Hayley and Diego’s Law, which are not being enforced?’”

“Clearly talk is cheap,” Lerner said. “I feel I’m going to have to keep on, to make sure that these are getting enforced. You know the TLC can say, ‘Oh yes we’ll do this, we’ll do this.’ But how do we know? Who’s going to hold them accountable?”

Lerner is hopeful that the mayor’s Vision Zero agenda will lead to the kind of cultural shift that her brother Barron Lerner described in the New York Times — that reckless driving will become socially unacceptable in the way that drunk driving did. “There needs to be signs and billboards reminding people that pedestrians have the right of way,” she said. ”I believe lowering the speed limit is critical.”

“There are positive changes that have happened already,” said Lerner. “We need to keep it moving in the right direction.”