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Cy Vance to Albany: TWU Bill Would Hinder Cases Against Drunk Drivers

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance sent a letter to state lawmakers warning that a bill to prevent police from detaining bus and taxi drivers at crash scenes would undermine law enforcement’s ability to collect evidence of impaired driving.

The bill, which sailed through the State Senate yesterday with no public notice and without a public hearing, would bar police from detaining many professional drivers — including bus drivers, taxi drivers, and limo drivers — following a crash. Instead, a driver suspected of breaking the law would receive a desk appearance ticket.

The bill passed the Senate at the behest of the Transport Workers Union, which doesn’t think bus drivers who kill and injure people should be subject to charges under the NYC Right of Way Law.

On Tuesday, Vance sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. It read:

Although the amended bill attempts to exclude drivers who may be driving under the influence of alcohol, police officers often conduct field sobriety tests even when there is no immediate suspicion of impairment, and must often wait a significant period of time for the arrival of equipment to conduct those tests. By prohibiting the detention of omnibus drivers at the scene of collisions, the bill prevents law enforcement from gathering evidence vital to bringing criminal charges in appropriate cases.

“In a city full of pedestrians and cyclists, we should be working on ways to make the city safer for New Yorkers, and certainly not promoting changes that would hold some drivers to a lower standard than others,” Vance wrote. “For these reasons, I urge our lawmakers to vote against this bill.”

NYPD and Mayor de Blasio’s office oppose the bill, along with Families for Safe Streets, Transportation Alternatives, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

The bill is now in the Assembly, where it’s the last day of the 2015 legislative session. Families of people killed by New York City drivers are in Albany today trying to convince Assembly members to stop the bill. You can support them by contacting your representative right now.

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Cy Vance Nets Felony Conviction of Driver Who Killed Senior Shu Ying Liu

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance secured a felony hit-and-run conviction against a truck driver who killed a senior in Hell’s Kitchen.

Cy Vance. Photo: Manhattan DA

On February 5, 2013, Jack Montelbano ran over 69-year-old Shu Ying Liu with a private dump truck as Liu crossed 41st Street at Ninth Avenue in the crosswalk and with the right of way. The Times reported that Montelbano drove away from the scene though witnesses alerted him to the collision.

Liu, who reportedly once worked as a magazine editor in China, lived on W. 54th Street, near the site of the crash. She was pronounced dead at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital.

Police found Montelbano in New Jersey, where he lived and where the truck was registered. A prosecutor with Vance’s office said Montelbano was “involved in a fatal car crash at that same spot several years ago,” the Post reported after Montelbano’s arrest.

Vance charged Montelbano with felony leaving the scene. Montelbano pled not guilty and was convicted at trial last Friday, June 19. The case was prosecuted by ADA Patricia Stolfi Collins.

To convict a driver for hit-and-run in New York State, prosecutors must prove a motorist knew or had reason to know an injury occurred. This is more difficult than it may seem. Under state law, “I didn’t see her” is not an admission of guilt, but a potent defense strategy. In another case brought by Vance, a jury acquitted the postal worker who killed cyclist Marilyn Dershowitz, despite video evidence showing the driver stop his truck after the collision before driving away from the scene.

Montelbano was convicted of a class D felony, which carries penalties ranging from probation to seven years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced in July.

Years before Liu was killed, Community Board 4 asked DOT to give people more time to cross at Ninth Avenue and W. 41st Street, an intersection with a history of crashes. Liu’s death sparked renewed calls for DOT action, and the agency finally made improvements, including a dedicated pedestrian signal phase, last summer.

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Did Cy Vance’s Office Investigate the Crash That Killed Mike Rogalle?

Cy Vance’s office said it has no record of the crash that killed Mike Rogalle.

Cy Vance’s office said it has no record of the crash that killed Mike Rogalle.

A Manhattan prosecutor says District Attorney Cy Vance’s office has no record of any investigation into the curb-jump crash that killed pedestrian Mike Rogalle.

Rogalle, who delivered packages for UPS, was working his Financial District route on the afternoon of April 17, 2012, when an SUV driver ran him over on the sidewalk outside 15 Beekman Street. Rogalle was removed from life support days later. He was 58.

Reports said there were two adults and two small children in the SUV. The press identified the adult passenger, a man, as an FDNY inspector. The driver was reportedly a woman. The names of the people in the SUV were not reported by the media.

NYPD and Vance filed no charges against the driver who killed Mike Rogalle.

Last month NYPD rejected a Streetsblog FOIL request for records pertaining to the crash, citing “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” On May 26 we filed a freedom of information request for documents from Vance’s office, including emails, pertaining to the case.

Assistant DA Sarah Hines responded on June 10:

Utilizing the information provided in your letter, including the name of the man who died and the date and location of the collision, which you specify, I have made diligent inquiries in this Office, including speaking with the Chief of the Vehicular Crimes Unit as well as the Unit Coordinator of that unit. Despite these inquiries, I have been unable to locate any records or documents responsive to your request.

If we do not possess the items you seek, then your request must be denied on that basis. The District Attorney’s Office cannot provide an item that does not exist or that we do not possess. If we do possess some or all of the items you seek, then your request does not “reasonably” describe them in a manner which enables me to locate them, and your request must be denied on that basis.

In the past, Vance’s PR staff told Streetsblog they could not access traffic crash cases without defendants’ names. Since very few traffic crashes in New York City result in criminal charges, there are usually no defendants to speak of. Meanwhile, NYPD generally does not divulge drivers’ names after a serious crash unless charges are filed.

This makes it impossible for the public to know why charges are not brought against Manhattan drivers who injure and kill people. In the case of Mike Rogalle, it appears that either Vance’s office is incapable of locating records when provided key details of a collision, or Vance’s office did not investigate Rogalle’s death.

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Ethan Villavicencio, 7, Killed by Motorist Inside Bronx Restaurant [Updated]

Update: According to court records, Oduro was charged with one D felony count and two misdemeanor counts of leaving the scene of an accident with injury, plus one traffic infraction. Class D felonies carry penalties ranging from probation to seven years in prison. DA Robert Johnson filed no charges for the act of killing Ethan Villavicencio.

A motorist drove into a Bronx restaurant Thursday, killing 7-year-old Ethan Villavicencio and injuring the boy’s sister and father.

Ethan, his 5-year-old sister and their dad were eating ice cream in Kennedy Fried Chicken at 3275 Westchester Avenue in Pelham Bay at around 5:30 p.m. when a man backed an SUV through the storefront, according to reports.

Ethan Villavicencio

Ethan Villavicencio

From the Daily News:

A Mercedes-Benz SUV reversed into the restaurant, shattering glass, overturning tables and pinning the boy against a side wall, witnesses said.

“There was a crater where the boy hit the wall,” said bus driver Luis Cruz, 52.

Ethan lay on the floor, conscious but barely able to move, Cruz said. His sister and father stood over him.

“The father was a bloody mess. He was covered with blood and he was trying to tend to his son. The blood from his face was dripping down on the boy,” Cruz said. “It was heartbreaking.”

As witnesses pounded on the vehicle, screaming at the driver that there were children under the car, the man drove away, heading west on Westchester Avenue before he was stopped by witnesses and traffic enforcement agents, reports said.

“One gentleman opened the door to try to grab the driver out to keep him from getting away,” witness Luis Cruz told the Post. “He [the driver] just pushed the gas and the person just couldn’t hold on.”

Ethan was reportedly conscious at the scene but died at Jacobi Medical Center. His sister and father were hospitalized.

Kwasi Oduro, 73, of the Bronx, was charged with one count of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death and two counts of leaving the scene of an injury crash, according to WPIX.

Police said Oduro was attempting to park when the crash occurred. Video of the crash shows the driver backing parallel to the curb before accelerating across the sidewalk into the storefront, pausing for a few seconds, then speeding away.

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Richard Brown: No Charges for Driver Who Killed Boy on Neighborhood Street

A driver fatally struck 8-year-old Sincere Atkins as he played outside his grandmother’s apartment on Sutphin Boulevard. Image: Google Maps

A driver fatally struck 8-year-old Sincere Atkins as he played outside his grandmother’s apartment on Sutphin Boulevard. Image: Google Maps

An 8-year-old boy hit by a driver on a neighborhood street in Queens on Memorial Day died from his injuries. NYPD and Queens District Attorney Richard Brown filed no charges.

Sincere Atkins was playing with his cousin outside his grandmother’s apartment, on Sutphin Boulevard near 125th Avenue, when a 21-year-old man hit him with a Toyota Corolla, according to reports.

A witness told the Post the driver, whose name was withheld by NYPD, hit Sincere “so hard it knocked his shoes across the street,” an indication the driver was probably speeding. Officers from the 113th Precinct, where Sincere was killed, issue an average of about one speeding ticket a day.

The crash happened on a street flanked by apartment buildings and a park, on a sunny spring day when kids were out of school — an environment where motorists should know to drive with care. “This is a very busy street,’’ a witness told the Post. “There are so many kids here. There should be a speed bump or something.’’

Reporters from the Post and the Daily News blamed the child, saying he “ran into traffic” and “darted” into the street.

Sincere died from head trauma on May 29, the News reported. “The driver of the car was not charged with a crime,” the News said.

The crash that killed Sincere occurred in the City Council district represented by Ruben Wills, and in Queens Community Board District 12.

Sincere Atkins was at least the third child age 14 and under killed by a New York City driver in 2015, and the 11th child victim since January 2014, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog.

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NYPD Denies Request for Files Related to Fatal Manhattan Curb-Jump Crash

Mike Rogalle appeared in a promotional video with Neil deGrasse Tyson, who noted his death on Facebook. Image: NOVA/YouTube via Facebook

Mike Rogalle appeared in a promotional video with Neil deGrasse Tyson before Rogalle was killed by a curb-jumping motorist in 2012. The driver was not charged. Image: NOVA/YouTube via Facebook

NYPD rejected a Streetsblog freedom of information request for files related to a curb-jump crash that killed a Manhattan pedestrian in the Financial District three years ago.

UPS man Mike Rogalle was working his regular route on the afternoon of April 17, 2012, when an SUV driver ran him over on the sidewalk outside 15 Beekman Street. Witnesses described an unthinkably gruesome scene, with Rogalle trapped under the vehicle before he was taken to the hospital in critical condition. Rogalle, 58, was removed from life support a few days after the crash.

Reports said there were two adults and two small children in the SUV at the time of the crash. The adult passenger, a man, was identified in the press as an FDNY inspector, and the driver was reportedly a woman. The names of the people in the SUV were not reported by the media.

NYPD and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance filed no charges against the driver who killed Mike Rogalle.

On May 7, Streetsblog filed a FOIL request for records pertaining to the crash that killed Rogalle. On May 19, NYPD Lieutenant Richard Mantellino rejected the request, citing “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” NYPD could have released the records with personal information redacted, but instead denied our request outright. Mantellino’s letter is embedded after the jump.

Streetsblog is appealing NYPD’s rejection of our request. On Tuesday we filed a separate FOIL request for relevant records from DA Vance’s office.

Last month a hit-and-run driver ran over a woman on the sidewalk near the spot where Rogalle was hit. Vance filed felony charges in that case. Both crashes occurred near Spruce Street School, where, according to parents who have kids there, motorists regularly use the sidewalk to drive around traffic. Spruce Street parents and administrators asked DOT for improvements to Beekman before Rogalle was killed. DOT installed a stop light and street markings at Beekman and William streets but has not implemented measures, such as bollards, to keep drivers off the sidewalk.

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Will NYPD Charge Driver Who Rammed Woman on Sidewalk and Left Scene?

Beekman Street, with Spruce Street School and New York Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital at right, where a driver hit Heather Hensl on the sidewalk and left the scene. Parents say motorists routinely drive on the sidewalk in front of the school to get around traffic. Image: Google Maps

Beekman Street, with Spruce Street School and New York Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital at right, where a driver hit Heather Hensl on the sidewalk and left the scene. Parents say motorists routinely drive on the sidewalk in front of the school to get around traffic. Image: Google Maps

A motorist who deliberately drove down a Manhattan sidewalk, rammed a pedestrian, left the scene and reportedly hit a second person in Brooklyn might not be charged with a crime, according to one of the victims.

Heather Hensl was walking on Beekman Street near William Street on April 13 when a motorist struck her, knocking her to the ground, lacerating her head and fracturing her leg. The driver did not stop. In an email to Downtown Express, Hensl, a 37-year-old physician assistant, said she is on crutches and may require knee surgery, in addition to physical therapy.

The crash occurred near Spruce Street School. Parents of kids who attend the school say it’s not unusual for motorists to use the sidewalk to drive around traffic.

From Downtown Express:

Video viewed by Downtown Express shows the driver backing up several times in order to be able to make the turn onto the sidewalk and head west past a traffic jam.

Captain Mark Iocco, the First Precinct’s commanding officer, said the same car was involved in an accident in Brooklyn about 30 minutes after that incident. The car was pulling into a parking spot and hit an elderly lady, he said at last week’s meeting of the First Precinct Community Council. The elderly woman couldn’t identify her, and could only confirm that the driver was a female, he said.

The suspect has filed an insurance claim. The police are working with the insurance company and they are “investigating her up and down,” said Iocco.

The driver barely missed striking other people on Beekman, including children, who were able to get out of her path, DNAinfo reported. “[The driver] drove on the sidewalk as if it was a lane,” one witness said. “So fast that I turned my head and I didn’t see the car.”

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No Felony Charge From Queens DA for Repeat Reckless Driver Who Hit Senior

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown agreed to drop felony charges against an unlicensed and allegedly impaired driver who ran over a senior and tried to flee the scene. Brown allowed the motorist to plead to a misdemeanor.

richardbrown

Queens DA Richard Brown

On October 21, 2014, William Stafford “plowed his 2005 BMW into an 89-year-old man” at the intersection of 25th Avenue and 44th Street in Astoria, the Daily News reported.

He stopped and tried to drive away, but horrified witnesses said they stopped him from speeding off.

“It’s like the whole neighborhood got together and followed him,” witness Lili Skorpanic, 54, said.

At least three motorists held him for police, who took him into custody without incident.

The senior, known in the neighborhood as Benny, was bleeding from the ears.

NYPD recorded the incident as an injury crash in the department’s October collision data report.

According to the Daily News, “Stafford was arrested two times before, once for driving on a suspended license in 2008 and once for drunk driving in 2009.” After the October crash, Brown charged Stafford with felony assault, felony leaving the scene, operating a motor vehicle while impaired by drugs, aggravated unlicensed operation, and other offenses, according to court records.

But on Monday, Stafford pled guilty to one count of misdemeanor leaving the scene, court records say. The felony assault charge was dismissed. For hitting an 89-year-old man with a car and attempting to flee the scene, Stafford faces a maximum penalty of a year in jail. The sentence will likely be lighter.

Brown has a long history of failing to impose serious consequences on motorists who injure, maim, and kill people. Brown filed no charges against a man who drove onto a sidewalk and ran down five children outside a school in Maspeth. When a motorist ran over 3-year-old Allison Liao in a Flushing crosswalk, Brown’s office defended him and wrote off the crash as an “accident.”

William Stafford is scheduled to be sentenced in June. Richard Brown is up for reelection later this year.

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Parents of Lucian Merryweather: Our Son’s Killer Should Never Drive Again

Vigil for Lucian Merryweather, November 5, 2013. Photo: Fort Greene Focus/Ben Brody/Flickr

Vigil for Lucian Merryweather, November 5, 2013. Photo: Fort Greene Focus/Ben Brody/Flickr

This week, Anthony Byrd was formally sentenced for fatally striking 9-year-old Lucian Merryweather on a Brooklyn sidewalk.

On November 2, 2013, Byrd drove a Ford SUV into two cars and a building after swerving to avoid two people in a crosswalk at DeKalb and Clermont Avenues. He then made a U-turn and drove against traffic on DeKalb, struck a woman in a crosswalk, hit a parked vehicle, and drove onto the sidewalk a second time, striking Lucian and his younger brother.

Byrd was charged by former DA Charles Hynes with second degree assault — a class D felony — criminally negligent homicide, and other charges and traffic infractions. However, Byrd was indicted on a top charge of homicide — a class E felony, the least severe felony category — and the class D second degree assault charge was reduced to misdemeanor assault, according to court records.

In March, District Attorney Ken Thompson and Byrd agreed to a plea arrangement of five years probation, 20 days of community service, and a five-year license revocation.

Lucian’s parents, Anna Kovel and Greg Merryweather, sent us a statement on Byrd’s plea deal, printed below in its entirety.

We, the parents of Lucian Merryweather, who was killed by a reckless driver on November 2, 2013, in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, worked closely with the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office to construct a plea bargain deal for the driver, Anthony Byrd, so that we could be certain that the killer of our bright and beautiful 9-year-old boy pleaded guilty to the highest charge he received: Criminally Negligent Homicide.

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Vance Upgrades Charges, Secures Manslaughter Indictment for LES Crash

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance secured a manslaughter indictment against a driver accused of killing a pedestrian in a high-speed crash on the Lower East Side.

Cy Vance. Photo: Manhattan DA

A Vance press release says that on the evening of November 24, 2014, Danny Lin was allegedly speeding northbound on the Bowery in a BMW when he drove into 57-year-old Robert Perry near the Rivington Street intersection, hitting Perry with such force that he was thrown a distance of more than 140 feet. “After striking Mr. Perry,” the press release says, “Lin continued a block before driving onto the sidewalk and crashing into a fire hydrant near several pedestrians.”

Perry died soon after he was taken to the hospital.

Lin, 24, was initially charged with homicide and leaving the scene. Earlier this month, Vance issued a more severe charge of manslaughter, according to court records. Vance announced Lin’s indictment today.

From the Vance press release:

“Less than three weeks before this fatal collision, New York City lowered its speed limit, recognizing that pedestrians struck by vehicles traveling at 30 miles per hour are twice as likely to die as those struck at 25 miles per hour,” said District Attorney Vance. “This defendant is charged with speeding down the Bowery at more than twice the new speed limit, allegedly striking and killing a 57-year-old man. Miraculously, no one else was hurt when the car he was driving crashed into a hydrant on a sidewalk filled with other pedestrians. City streets are no place for this kind of reckless driving and dangerous speed.”

In New York State, criminally negligent homicide is a class E felony, the lowest level felony category, with a maximum penalty of four years in jail. Manslaughter is a class C felony, and carries penalties ranging from probation to 15 years in prison.

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