Vance Drops Right of Way Charge Against Truck Driver Who Killed Senior

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance dropped a Right of Way Law charge against a truck driver who killed a senior on the Upper East Side.

On the afternoon of October 10, 2014, Victor Hernandez hit 86-year-old Peter Romano with a Coca-Cola truck while making a right turn at the corner of Third Avenue and E. 96th Street, according to reports.

“The driver wanted to keep going, people had to tell him to stop,” witness Edwin Rios, told the Post. “People were yelling please stop, please stop.”

Police said Romano was in the crosswalk and was crossing with the signal. On October 11, the NYPD Highway Division announced that the driver was arrested for failing to yield.

Vance’s office conducted a 15-month investigation of the crash. Last week, prosecutors dropped their case against Hernandez without taking it to trial.

According to Vance’s office, prosecutors said in court that Hernandez was not using his phone at the time of the crash and was not impaired. Prosecutors told the court that Hernandez stopped at the light and that several people crossed in front of his truck before he proceeded to turn.

In explaining their decision to drop the case, prosecutors said they believed Hernandez’s visibility was hindered due to the truck’s design and because the victim was 5’5” tall. Prosecutors noted that Hernandez did not leave the scene, and said they could not conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that he was not exercising due care when he ran over Romano.

“The district attorney has made a fine start in nullifying the Right of Way Law, just as prosecutors and judges have over the decades nullified so many laws enacted to protect crash victims,” said attorney Steve Vaccaro in an email to Streetsblog. “The Right of Way Law requires a driver who kills a pedestrian with the right of way to prove, as an affirmative defense, that he exercised all care that was due under the circumstances. Here, the driver proved nothing, but the DA copped out by gratuitously speculating, for the driver’s benefit, that a juror might find this killing reasonable.”

Vaccaro says the Vance team failed to properly interpret the Right of Way Law and should have let a jury decide the case. “A driver high up in the cab of a big rig has an obligation to look carefully for any pedestrian with the right of way — even those, like the 5’5″ tall elderly victim here, who are short of stature.”

“In essence,” says Vaccaro, “the DA concluded that it is less blameworthy to kill short people than tall people.”

The Right of Way Law was meant to give law enforcers the means to hold drivers accountable for everyday negligence that injures and kills thousands of New Yorkers every year — failure to yield is the top contributing factor in 27 percent of pedestrian deaths and severe injuries, according to DOT’s 2010 pedestrian safety study. But police and prosecutors have applied the misdemeanor provision of the law only a few dozen times since it took effect in 2014, a problem Mayor de Blasio and the City Council have shown no interest in addressing.