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Cy Vance: $580 Fine for Driver Who Killed 9-Year-Old Cooper Stock

Following a plea deal agreed to by Manhattan DA Cy Vance, the driver who killed Cooper Stock in a crosswalk was fined $580 and lost his driving privileges for six months.

Following a plea deal agreed to by Manhattan DA Cy Vance, the driver who killed Cooper Stock in a crosswalk was fined $580 and lost his driving privileges for six months.

In separate stories published yesterday, family members of Marilyn Dershowitz and Cooper Stock, both lost to traffic violence, criticized Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance for his reluctance to file serious charges against motorists who kill people.

Vance declined to apply criminal charges against Koffi Komlani, the cab driver who struck 9-year-old Cooper and his father as the two walked hand in hand in an Upper West Side crosswalk in January 2014. Cooper was killed, his father was injured, and it took Vance 11 months to charge Komlani with two traffic offenses — careless driving and failure to yield.

Komlani’s attorney said weather caused the crash, the same excuse Vance’s office gave Cooper’s family for not pursuing a criminal case.

On Monday, according to the Post, prosecutors agreed to a plea arrangement for Komlani: a $580 fine and a six-month license suspension. Komlani’s attorney said Vance’s office did not ask for jail time, which would have maxed out at 15 days.

[Cooper’s mother Dana] Lerner said District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s office told her they needed two misdemeanors to charge Komlani criminally — even though the prosecutor campaigned on getting rid of that case law precedent, referred to as the “rule of two.”

“It goes without saying that what happened here today does not even begin to bring justice in the death of my son Cooper Stock,” said a statement from Lerner, read yesterday in court. “Giving this man a traffic ticket for killing my son is an insult to us and to Cooper’s memory. Is a life worth nothing more than a traffic ticket?”

The New York Press reports that a civil jury last week ruled U.S. Postal Service driver Ian Clement at fault for killing cyclist Marilyn Dershowitz in 2011. Clement ran Dershowitz over, stopped his truck for a moment, then drove away. He was cleared by a jury of leaving the scene, a charge filed by Vance after the Dershowitz family complained to the media about the DA’s handling of the case.

The Press reports that Judge Sarah Netburn ruled Clement “was negligent in his operation of his vehicle, causing the accident and [Dershowitz’s] death.”

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Two People Were Killed in This Crash and the Bronx DA Hasn’t Filed Charges

Warning: Graphic video

Update: DNAinfo reported that the victim in the video is Manuel Quiñones, who was hospitalized in critical condition. The Post reported that the victim is Kadeem Brown. This post has been edited to reflect uncertainty of the victim’s identity. The green cab driver was identified by the Post and the Daily News as Emilio Garcia.

Video posted online shows a speeding green cab driver strike a pedestrian on the Grand Concourse. The driver killed Kadeem Brown and 5-year-old Tierre Clark and injured two others. No charges were filed by NYPD or Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson.

Bronx DA Robert Johnson

Bronx DA Robert Johnson

The crash happened at the Grand Concourse and E. 170th Street on March 20. The video, posted on Facebook by a man who identified himself as the owner of a bodega on the northeast corner of the intersection, shows the green cab driver strike a victim at high speed on a Concourse service road.

Brown, 25, died at the scene. In addition to Brown, the cab driver struck Clark and two adults who were standing on the sidewalk, reportedly waiting for a bus. Clark died at a hospital. A 55-year-old man and a 39-year-old woman, who according to some reports was Tierre’s mother, were hospitalized.

The driver was identified only as a 44-year-old man. His name was withheld by NYPD and the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

The TLC told Streetsblog the driver’s TLC license was suspended, pending the outcome of the crash investigation. If NYPD and Johnson decline to file charges it’s likely the driver will have his TLC license restored.

Streetsblog has asked Johnson’s office for an update on this case.

Johnson did not file charges against the woman who drove onto a sidewalk outside a Bronx school last October, hitting 10 people and killing 8-year-old Rylee Ramos.

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Cy Vance: Senior’s Crosswalk Death Remains Unsolved After Seven Months

No charges were filed by NYPD or Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance against the driver who fatally struck 82-year-old Sui Leung in a Manhattan crosswalk last fall. Though Council Member Margaret Chin said the NYPD crash report indicated Leung was walking with the right of way, Vance’s office says the investigation has yet to conclude seven months after the crash.

Cy Vance indicted 190 drivers for vehicular crimes in five years. Will he try for 191? Photo: Manhattan DA

commercial van driver hit Leung as she crossed at the intersection Kenmare and Elizabeth Streets on the afternoon of September 25, 2014. NYPD didn’t release the driver’s identity. The van belonged to Party Rental Ltd. of Teterboro, New Jersey.

Shortly after the crash, NYPD told Streetsblog the driver had a green light. A visit to the intersection revealed there is no exclusive turn phase at Kenmare and Elizabeth, so Leung would have had a walk signal when the driver had a green, and would therefore have had the right of way.

“She had the right of way,” local City Council Member Margaret Chin told Streetsblog last October. Along with council reps Rosie Mendez and Ydanis Rodriguez, Chin sent a letter to NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan urging police to charge the driver under the Right of Way Law, which took effect last August. According to details provided in the police report, Chin said, Leung “unquestionably did nothing wrong.”

Streetsblog contacted Chin’s office last December to check up on the case, and at that time no action had been taken against the driver.

“It looks like no charges were ever filed,” Chin spokesperson Sam Spokony told Streetsblog last week, “and that’s obviously something we’re really unhappy with, as Council Member Chin has communicated to both the Manhattan DA’s office and NYPD.”

“At this stage, the investigation remains open, so we cannot make further comment,” said Vance spokesperson Joan Vollero. Vance’s office usually does not comment on vehicular cases, even when cases are disposed or no charges are filed in the first place.

The investigation into the death of 9-year-old Cooper Stock was officially “open” for months after Vance’s office told family members no charges would be filed against the cab driver who killed him.

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No Charges for Cab Driver Who Killed Two People on Bronx Sidewalk

Image: News 12

NYPD and the TLC are withholding the name of the cab driver who hit four people on a Bronx sidewalk, killing two. No charges were filed. Image: News 12

No charges have been filed against a cab driver who drove onto a sidewalk in the Bronx and killed a man and a young girl.

The crash happened at around 6:30 p.m. Friday. Reports say the 44-year-old driver, whose name is being withheld by NYPD and the Taxi and Limousine Commission, hit a parked car on a Grand Concourse service road, then crashed onto the sidewalk near a bus stop at E. 170th Street, about a block away, and ran over four people.

Kadeem Brown, 25, died at the scene. Five-year-old Tierre Clark died later at a hospital. A 55-year-old man and a 39-year-old woman, who according to some reports was Tierre’s mother, were hospitalized.

“The car came up driving on the sidewalk,” witness Ronald Luis told the Daily News. “After it hit the people, it hit the corner of the building and spun around. The whole front was smashed in.”

“On this side they were pressing on her chest — the little girl,” witness Raymond Fermin told WCBS. “I’m guessing also she couldn’t breathe. I wasn’t sure. The guy that was laying here on the floor — they weren’t giving him any treatment. I guess he was already gone.”

Photos and video footage from the scene show the heavily-damaged cab at rest against a building. WABC noted that there are cameras attached to a neighboring building.

No arrests were made and an investigation is ongoing, according to NYPD and the office of Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson. News 12 reported that police believed the driver was speeding. The Daily News said NYPD was looking into whether the driver “was having a medical episode.”

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Will DA Ken Thompson Drop Case Against Bus Driver Who Killed Senior?

On the evening of December 23, 2014, 78-year-old Jean Bonne-Annee was crossing New York Avenue at Farragut Road in Brooklyn when an MTA bus driver ran him over while making a left turn.

Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson

Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson

Bonne-Annee died at the scene. He was the eighth pedestrian killed by a turning MTA bus driver in 2014.

Police arrested driver Reginald Prescott and charged him with violating the Right of Way Law, which is intended to hold drivers accountable for killing or injuring pedestrians and cyclists who are following traffic rules.

Because Prescott was driving a bus and was charged for killing someone, TWU Local 100 and some members of the press have devoted much attention to a crash that otherwise would have received little or no notice. On Tuesday Pete Donohue of the Daily News reported that District Attorney Ken Thompson may bow to pressure from the TWU and dismiss the case.

Arraignment proceedings for Prescott were canceled, Donohue reported, “as prosecutors and his union defense lawyer agreed neither to go forward with a formal reading of the charges nor require Prescott to enter a plea, as is customary.”

“We pressed a pause button to say ‘stop’ with the view towards the district attorney ultimately dismissing the charges completely against Mr. Prescott,” TWU Local 100 legal director Kenneth Page said.

A spokeswoman for Brooklyn prosecutors would only say that the case remains under investigation. No new court date for Prescott was set during his appearance in court Tuesday morning.

“[T]he case is still being investigated and the charges have not been dropped,” a Thompson spokesperson told Streetsblog via email.

As Ben Fried wrote this week, before the Right of Way Law NYPD and prosecutors didn’t investigate the vast majority of serious traffic crashes, and declined to pursue charges in fatal collisions that did not involve extenuating circumstances like DWI or leaving the scene. The strength of the Right of Way Law is that it removes driver intent from the equation: If you harm someone who is walking or biking with the right of way, you committed a misdemeanor.

The court process may reveal that Prescott was not at fault. What shouldn’t be in doubt is a full and fair disposition of the case. Otherwise, people who are following all the rules will continue to be denied the protection of the law, as they were before.

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In Brooklyn, Another Alleged Unlicensed Driver Faces Wrist Tap for Killing

An allegedly unlicensed driver who killed a pedestrian in a Brooklyn crosswalk last month was not charged with criminal negligence by NYPD or District Attorney Ken Thompson. Meanwhile, legislation to increase the penalty for causing a death while driving without a valid license continues to languish in Albany.

The motorist who killed Raul Leone-Vasquez was charged with unlicensed driving and careless driving, but was not charged by Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson with criminal negligence under the “rule of two.”

The motorist who killed Raul Leone-Vasquez was charged with unlicensed driving, a misdemeanor, and careless driving, a traffic infraction, but was not charged by Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson with criminal negligence.

Raul Leone-Vasquez was crossing Bay Parkway at Bath Avenue at around 6:35 a.m. on December 28 when Simcha Rosenblatt hit him with a Toyota Camry, according to the Bensonhurst Bean and the Daily News. Leone-Vasquez, 27, suffered head trauma and died at Lutheran Hospital. His death was reported by several outlets Wednesday, following an NYPD media release.

Rosenblatt, 60, of Lakewood, New Jersey, was charged with aggravated unlicensed operation and failure to exercise due care. The Bensonhurst Bean and WNBC reported that, according to police, Leone-Vasquez was crossing Bay Parkway east to west, in the crosswalk, and Rosenblatt was southbound on Bay Parkway. If that account is accurate, and Leone-Vasquez had a walk signal, it appears Rosenblatt would either have been turning from Bath Avenue onto Bay Parkway or he drove south through the intersection against the light.

Aggravated unlicensed operation is a low-level misdemeanor that stipulates that Rosenblatt drove without a license when he knew or should have known he didn’t have one. It is common for NYPD and city prosecutors to file a top charge of aggravated unlicensed operation when an accused unlicensed driver kills a pedestrian. It’s the same charge applied by police and prosecutors when an unlicensed driver commits a traffic infraction.

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Suffolk DA Stands With Traffic Violence Victims — Will NYC DAs Follow Suit?

To get a district attorney to talk about traffic violence on camera, you have to go to Long Island. Image: WCBS

To get a district attorney to talk about traffic violence on camera, you have to go to Long Island. Image: WCBS

On Tuesday, New Yorkers tuned into the evening news might have seen a district attorney standing with victims of traffic violence. But the prosecutor wasn’t from one of the five boroughs.

WCBS reports:

The families of four victims killed in hit-and-run crashes in Suffolk County called on Albany on Tuesday to enact tougher sentences for drivers who flee the scene.

The families, accompanied by Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota and state senators, demanded that the maximum sentence be increased from seven to 15 years for hit-and-run drivers involved in fatal crashes, WCBS 880 Long Island Bureau Chief Mike Xirinachs reported.

Spota said the state’s current hit-and-run laws are too weak and there’s no incentive to stay at the scene, CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reported.

“Because that person has the opportunity to get to their house, sober up, get rid of their car or hide their car or deny that they were the drivers of their vehicles,” Spota said.

Spota was speaking in support of a bill to elevate leaving the scene of a fatal crash to a class C felony. The bill passed the State Senate in 2013 and 2014 but stalled both sessions in Assembly Member David Gantt’s transportation committee.

With Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver under federal indictment, what happens in Albany this year is anyone’s guess, but it’s nonetheless encouraging to see a district attorney publicly calling on the state legislature to act on behalf of people who have lost loved ones to reckless drivers. (Kathleen Rice gained national recognition for prosecuting drunk drivers for murder during her tenure as district attorney in neighboring Nassau County.)

New York City prosecutors blame weak statutes for making it difficult to bring cases against motorists who injure and kill, yet with the exception of Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson, none have announced plans to work with Families For Safe Streets to hold reckless drivers accountable, much less have they joined victims in urging Albany to strengthen state law.

Queens DA Richard Brown and Bronx DA Robert Johnson are up for re-election in 2015. Staten Island DA Dan Donovan, whose term is also up this year, is running for Congress.

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So Far, Ken Thompson Is the Only DA to Meet With Families For Safe Streets

With Families For Safe Streets appealing to New York City’s five district attorneys to prosecute dangerous drivers who injure or kill, one DA has opened his doors to them.

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson. Photo: Brooklyn DA’s Office

At a City Hall rally last Sunday, Families For Safe Streets announced that Thompson is launching the District Attorney Driver Accountability Initiative. “The new initiative is designed to address issues relative to Brooklyn,” said Thompson spokesperson Helen Peterson. “We have met with representatives of Families For Safe Streets and Transportation Alternatives and all of the five requests… are being discussed.”

That meeting was held in mid-December after Mohammad Uddin, 14, became the third student at M.S. 51 in Brooklyn to be struck and killed by a driver in 13 months. Council Member Brad Lander initiated the sit-down with Thompson at the request of the Uddin family. Thompson is hosting a follow-up meeting with the families, legislators, and other law enforcement experts on January 29.

“We need for the DAs to consistently hold reckless drivers who kill and injure accountable. The DAs have only brought a handful of cases each year,” said Amy Cohen of Families For Safe Streets. “The Brooklyn DA has said he will increase enforcement and we demand that others do the same.”

At the event on Sunday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said she would help FFSS gain traction with the Manhattan DA. “I’m a big fan, I have to say, of Cy Vance, so we will figure out why he’s not prosecuting in the way that has been suggested by the Brooklyn district attorney,” Brewer said. “As Manhattan borough president, I will take that on as an agenda item.”

Update: After publication, Vance spokesperson Joan Vollero offered a statement: “The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has been in touch with Families For Safe Streets to arrange a meeting, as we have previously with Transportation Alternatives and families members. Our door is always open.”

After a loved one is killed, families say they often feel cut out of the process that determines consequences for drivers. Families For Safe Streets is calling on the DAs to use “restorative justice” programs, which involve mediation and commonly offer alternative sentencing to juvenile offenders with the approval of the victim’s family. The goal of these programs isn’t to mete out harsh jail terms but to prevent repeat behavior in the future, and Families For Safe Streets wants to see this approach expanded to vehicular violence cases.

When Streetsblog followed up after the rally, DAs didn’t respond directly to the request for restorative justice techniques. “We always use the input of our victims to determine an appropriate plea,” said Bronx DA spokesperson Terry Raskyn.

Another request from families of crash victims is for the DAs to systematically compile and share data about charges and outcomes in vehicular violence cases. The Bronx DA’s office said it’s making progress on that front. Its information technology department is working to change its filing systems so vehicular crimes can be categorized separately for analysis.

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DAs Insist They Don’t Call Car Crashes “Accidents,” Except When They Do

Queens DA Richard Brown, Manhattan DA Cy Vance, and Bronx DA Robert Johnson.

Queens DA Richard Brown, Manhattan DA Cy Vance, and Bronx DA Robert Johnson.

Among the demands Families For Safe Streets is making of district attorneys, one of the simpler changes is to stop using the word “accident” to describe traffic collisions. In exchanges this week, the offices of three district attorneys said in no uncertain terms that they already refrain from using the word “accident” in this manner. But that’s not actually the case.

Even former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly eventually came to the conclusion that the words we use to describe traffic violence matter. He directed NYPD in 2013 to adopt the word “collision” instead of “accident,” because “the term ‘accident’ has sometimes given the inaccurate impression or connotation that there is no fault or liability associated with a specific event.” An “accident” is unavoidable, absolving people of responsibility, but a “crash” or “collision” has causes and can be traced to people’s actions.

In statements, DAs seem to understand this and claim to have dropped the word “accident” years ago. But in practice, they continue to call it an “accident” whenever a driver kills someone without receiving any criminal charge — which means the vast majority of the time.

“Prosecutors citywide have always called these cases ‘crashes,'” said Terry Raskyn, a spokesperson for Bronx DA Robert Johnson. She credited pressure from DAs in getting both NYPD and the DMV to stop using “accidents” as an official term in 2013. “We’ve spent 20 years objecting at trial to the defense attorneys characterizing them as accidents,” she said.

Yet in an accompanying statement explaining why he does not pursue charges against more drivers, Johnson said: “The legislature and the courts have outlined the rules for separating crimes from accidents. We go to great lengths to gather all available evidence in such cases, and then evaluate that evidence based on the state of the law. We make every effort to do as much as the law allows.”

Johnson isn’t the only district attorney so quick to discard the more neutral terminology. “Since DA Vance took office in 2010, this office has used the following terminology: crashes, collisions, and strikes,” said Vance spokesperson Joan Vollero. “We do not use the word ‘accident.'”

But when former Police Commissioner Howard Safir struck a woman before driving off in 2010, Vance’s office described it as an “accident” before deciding not to pursue charges. When asked about vehicular violence in November, Vance himself said “a prosecution is not necessarily a following event after a tragic accident.” And just yesterday, Vance fell back on the word “accident” three times to explain why he rarely prosecutes reckless drivers.

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DA Cy Vance: Most Manhattan Traffic Deaths Aren’t Crimes

Sofia Russo, whose daughter Ariel was killed by a Manhattan driver, is swarmed by reporters after asking Manhattan DA Cy Vance to meet with the families of crash victims. Photo: Brad Aaron

Sofia Russo, whose daughter Ariel was killed by a Manhattan driver, is swarmed by reporters after she asked District Attorney Cy Vance to meet with families of crash victims. Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson has agreed to work with Families For Safe Streets to hold drivers accountable for killing pedestrians and cyclists. Photo: Brad Aaron

All Cy Vance wanted to do was talk computer crime at the Yale Club, but Sofia Russo, who lost her daughter to traffic violence, wouldn’t let him stick to the script.

At a Crain’s breakfast in Midtown today, the Manhattan district attorney assured the capacity crowd that his office is going after gangs, targeting terrorists, and “keeping New York safe for business.” He also revealed that in five years he secured indictments in just 190 vehicular cases — including crashes involving drunk driving — which means he has allowed thousands of motorists to go unpenalized for injuring and killing people in traffic.

It’s pretty well established that Vance is serious about “cybercrime.” The Internet, Vance said this morning, is “our modern crime scene,” with fraud and other nefarious activity at “epidemic levels,” committed by perpetrators who “operate with impunity.” Vance touted a new lab dedicated to computer crimes, as well as a prosecutor training program. There are 85 assistant district attorneys assigned to computer-based crime in Vance’s office, he said, 15 of them full-time.

“Please consider this, those of you who are in the business world, my direct appeal,” said Vance. “If you see cybercrime, report it to us. Call me, call the head of our investigation division … and we will respond to you promptly.”

Though he promised to make traffic justice a priority when he first ran for office in 2009, Vance hasn’t been as committed to holding motorists accountable for causing physical harm to pedestrians and cyclists. His prepared remarks didn’t touch on the thousands of people killed and injured by reckless Manhattan drivers on his watch — victims whose experiences with the DA’s office have often been frustrating. Traffic violence didn’t come up this morning until moderator Erik Engquist, Crain’s assistant managing editor, asked him the following:

“It’s basically legal in New York City, with the exception of the $250 fine you get, to turn into a crosswalk and run over pedestrians — kill them, maim them, mutilate them — if you stop, get out, express sympathy, and pay your $250 fine for failure to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk. During your campaign in 2009 you said that that was wrong, that if you kill a person it was a crime, and this ‘rule of two’ … that you have to be doing something else at the same time to justify a conviction, like be drunk for instance, should not apply. In fact, doesn’t it still apply? Have you really kept to that?”

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