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Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson: $500 Fine for Unlicensed Driver Who Killed Senior

The driver who killed Brooklyn pedestrian Maude Savage was charged for failure to yield and driving without a license, but Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson did not charge him with criminal negligence under the "rule of two." Crash still via Daily News. Thompson image: NY1

The driver who killed Brooklyn pedestrian Maude Savage last year was charged for failure to yield and driving without a license, but Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson did not charge him with criminal negligence under the so-called “rule of two.” Crash still via Daily News. Thompson image: NY1

An unlicensed driver was sentenced to a small fine and probation after he ran over and killed a Brooklyn senior who was crossing with the right of way, per the terms of a plea deal with District Attorney Ken Thompson. Though the driver was charged with committing two traffic offenses at the time of the crash, he was not charged with criminal negligence under the so-called “rule of two.”

Maude Savage, 72, waited for the signal before entering the crosswalk at Sutter and Euclid Avenues last November 25. She was mid-way across the street when Robert Brown drove a commercial van into her. Video of the crash shows that Brown barely slowed as he made a left turn, leaving Savage no time to clear his path. She died from her injuries.

Brown was charged by then-DA Charles Hynes with aggravated unlicensed operation, a misdemeanor that stipulates that he drove without a license when he knew or should have known he didn’t have one. He was also ticketed for failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk, according to court records.

Theoretically, the crash that killed Maude Savage should have triggered the “rule of two,” case law precedent that holds that a New York State motorist who is breaking at least two traffic laws at the time of a crash may be charged with criminal negligence. New York City prosecutors regularly cite the rule of two as an obstacle to charging motorists for killing, but routinely fail to bring charges after crashes involving two or more traffic violations. True to form, Hynes and Thompson did not upgrade charges against Brown.

Aggravated unlicensed operation is seemingly the default charge against unlicensed drivers who kill New York City pedestrians. It’s the same charge that is applied against unlicensed drivers who turn without signaling. In June Brown pled guilty to unlicensed operation in the second degree, a charge that may be applied when a defendant is caught driving without a license after prior convictions for unlicensed driving, or when the defendant’s license was previously suspended or revoked pursuant to a drug or alcohol related driving offense.

Second degree unlicensed operation is an unclassified misdemeanor with penalties including jail time, probation, and a fine of not less than $500. According to court records, Brown was sentenced last week to a $500 fine and two years probation.

As of August it is a misdemeanor for a driver to injure or kill a New York City pedestrian or cyclist who has the right of way. Motorists have killed at least 13 pedestrians since the law took effect, and NYPD has applied the law once.

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Vance Brings Manslaughter Charge in Death of Pedestrian Charity Hicks

A motorist charged with manslaughter for the death of a Manhattan pedestrian is scheduled to appear in court later this week.

Charity Hicks. Photo via Gothamist

Charity Hicks. Photo via Gothamist

Thomas Shanley, 35, was texting when he drove a Dodge SUV onto the curb on 10th Avenue near W. 34th Street at around 8:20 a.m. on May 31, striking a fire hydrant and a bus stop signpost and mortally wounding Charity Hicks, according to a criminal court complaint and reports from Gothamist and the Daily News. A second pedestrian was also injured.

The criminal court complaint says video reviewed by NYPD showed the SUV moving northbound on 10th Avenue when the driver “swerve[d] across two lanes of traffic and onto the sidewalk.” Records from Shanley’s iPhone, found at the scene, indicated that the user was sending a text message at the time of the collision, according to the complaint.

Hicks was policy director for the East Michigan Environmental Action Council, according to a Detroit news outlet, and was visiting NYC for a conference. She suffered severe head trauma, broken ribs, and injuries to her lungs. Hicks died on July 8.

Shanley fled the scene on foot, reports said, and was arrested in New Jersey on August 1. Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance charged Shanley with one count of manslaughter and one count of felony leaving the scene, according to court records.

Whether or not they remain at the scene, sober drivers are not usually charged with manslaughter, or the less serious charge of vehicular homicide, for killing New York City pedestrians. There are exceptions, but it’s difficult to discern why some drivers involved in serious crashes are prosecuted while others are not, since city district attorneys do not generally discuss vehicular crimes cases, even when cases are closed or no charges are brought.

Cell phone evidence and video of the crash may have factored into the DA’s decision in this case, as could leaving the scene. In addition, Shanley was reportedly on parole at the time of the crash. Other New York City DAs — former Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes especially — seemed more inclined to issue felony charges against drivers with criminal records.

Manslaughter is a class C felony with possible sentences ranging from probation to 15 years in prison. Shanley’s next court appearance is set for Friday.

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Will Cy Vance Fail to Prosecute Another Serious Midtown Curb-Jump Crash?

New Yorkers have seen this before.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance sees no evidence of recklessness here. Photo: ##https://twitter.com/FDNY/status/496750617613066240##@FDNY##

No evidence of recklessness here, says Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance. Photo: @FDNY

On a beautiful summer day, a professional driver with a history of recklessness behind the wheel drives onto a crowded Midtown sidewalk, striking multiple people and causing serious injuries. The driver lays blame elsewhere, on factors he claims were beyond his control. Meanwhile, staff from Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s office, who don’t normally discuss vehicular crimes with reporters, issue statements assuring the public that prosecutors are on the case.

It was one year ago this month that yellow cab driver Mohammad Faysal Himon severed the leg of tourist Sian Green. In November, Vance’s office announced that no charges would be filed.

On Tuesday afternoon, William Dalambert crashed a Gray Line double-decker bus into an SUV and another sightseeing bus at 47th Street and Seventh Avenue, then jumped the curb and knocked over a light pole, injuring 18 people. Dalambert has anywhere from 11 to 20 license suspensions on his record, according to reports. He has been cited for speeding, using a cell phone while driving, and driving without a license. Video reportedly shows him accelerating before Tuesday’s crash, as the light in front of the bus turned red. Dalambert claimed the brakes on the bus failed, but investigators found no evidence of a mechanical problem.

Dalambert was arrested for driving while ability impaired, but further tests indicated no intoxication, and to this point Vance has filed no charges.

“[A]t this present stage of the investigation, there is not sufficient basis to conclude that the defendant was operating the tour bus in a reckless manner,” read a court notice filed by Vance’s office. Vance spokesperson Joan Vollero said the office is still investigating: “We are awaiting results of the full toxicology report. We are taking this matter seriously.”

Whether or not Dalambert was under the influence, that he drove into two vehicles, mounted the curb and injured multiple bystanders is not in dispute. Only through sheer luck did the people in his path escape death, and the severity of the victims’ injuries is not publicly known.

There is video of this crash, and, as with the Sian Green case, no shortage of witnesses. And yet — as with the Sian Green case — Vance has issued no charges for recklessness or criminal negligence.

Time will tell if DA Vance steps up in this instance to protect New Yorkers from dangerous drivers, or if the outcome of this serious crash will be déjà vu all over again.

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DA Thompson Plea Deal: Serial Unlicensed Driver Fined $250 for Deadly Crash

A serial unlicensed driver who killed a pedestrian will pay a few hundred dollars in fines pursuant to a plea deal with Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson.

The recidivist unlicensed driver who killed pedestrian Nicole Detweiler was fined $250 after a plea deal from Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson. Image: ##http://www.ny1.com/content/politics/inside_city_hall/190291/ny1-online--brooklyn-da-candidate-thompson-responds-to-attacks##NY1##

The recidivist unlicensed driver who killed pedestrian Nicole Detweiler was fined $250 after a plea deal from Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson. Image: NY1

Two motorists hit 32-year-old Nicole Detweiler as she crossed McGuinness Boulevard at Nassau Avenue in the early evening hours of December 29, 2013. She died at the scene.

According to DNAinfo, the second driver to strike Detweiler was Roberto Amador, then 35, who had been arrested less than a week earlier for driving with a suspended license when he collided with a cab on the Upper West Side. His license was suspended last May, the report said, because he didn’t pay “a recurring fee drivers pay the DMV for various infractions.” DMV imposed the fee after Amador accumulated six license points between December 2011 and May 2013, DNAinfo reported.

For the first offense, Amador was charged by Manhattan DA Cy Vance with second degree unlicensed operation, a charge that may be applied when a defendant is caught driving without a license after prior convictions for unlicensed driving, or when the defendant’s license was previously suspended or revoked pursuant to a drug or alcohol related driving offense.

After the fatal Brooklyn crash former DA Charles Hynes issued a top charge of third degree aggravated unlicensed operation — a less severe charge than the one applied by Vance — despite Amador’s pending unlicensed driving charge. Hynes did not charge Amador for killing Detweiler. Thompson, who defeated Hynes in last year’s election, didn’t upgrade the charge, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Aggravated unlicensed operation tends to be the default top charge against unlicensed drivers who kill New York City pedestrians. It’s also applied against unlicensed drivers who commit non-criminal traffic infractions. State lawmakers failed this year to pass legislation to make it a felony to kill or injure someone while driving without a license.

In July, Amador pled guilty to the Manhattan charge and the court imposed a $200 fine, according to court records. On Tuesday, he pled guilty to aggravated unlicensed operation in the third degree for the crash that killed Nicole Detweiler. He was fined $250 and given a one-year conditional discharge.

The message from prosecutors is this: Don’t bother with a drivers license in New York City. So long as you aren’t drunk, the justice system will barely inconvenience you — even if you kill someone.

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Will DA Ken Thompson Investigate Killing of 14-Year-Old Nicholas Soto?

Following the vehicular killing of 14-year-old Nicholas Soto in Red Hook Monday morning, anonymous police sources were quick to blame the victim, though the crash happened near a school bus and sent Soto through the air, witnesses said. According to press accounts, NYPD won’t say if the driver who struck Soto was speeding through an area of Red Hook where drivers routinely endanger lives. Meanwhile, the local precinct community council is scheduled to meet tonight.

Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson. Image: ##http://www.ny1.com/content/politics/inside_city_hall/190291/ny1-online--brooklyn-da-candidate-thompson-responds-to-attacks##NY1##

Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson. Image: NY1

Soto was crossing at the corner of Lorraine Street and Hicks Street at around 7 a.m. when the unnamed driver, apparently westbound on Lorraine, slammed into him with a BMW sedan.

Photos from the scene show extensive damage to the right side of the car. The front fender was dented, the hood separated from the headlight bezel, and the windshield nearly punched through. Witnesses say Soto was hit with such force that he was propelled away from the street and over a nearby fence.

From the Post:

“He came running through here, too busy, trying to catch the [school] bus,” said Edward Austin, 54, who witnessed the tragic accident.

Austin said the boy was looking at the bus when [he] ran into the intersection and failed to see the car coming from the opposite direction.

“The car came down, he was moving too damn fast,” he continued, referring to the driver. “The poor kid was bleeding through his eyes.”

“We’re losing our kids out here because [drivers] think this is a damn highway,” Alfredo Otero, a local, told the Post. “This is not the first,” said another resident. “I seen three or four people get hit out here.”

Soto’s family and other residents of Red Hook Houses East, where the victim lived, told DNAinfo the corner of Lorraine and Hicks is “notoriously dangerous.”

Eddie Soto, Nicholas’ father, said his son’s death reflected the community’s need for safer streets.

“It’s not only about my son,” Soto said. “It’s about everyone else.”

“The driver of the BMW remained on scene and and was issued a summons for having his windows tinted illegally,” the Post reported. “Police would not say if the driver was speeding.”

It’s unusual for a New York City district attorney to charge a sober motorist who remains at the scene for killing, but it does happen. In January, Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson charged a driver with manslaughter for the death of a second driver in a crash that apparently did not involve alcohol. Last year Thompson’s predecessor Charles Hynes filed assault and homicide charges against the driver who killed 9-year-old pedestrian Lucian Merryweather and injured his younger brother, though the top charge was later downgraded to homicide. (In New York State, criminally negligent homicide is a class E felony, the least severe felony category.)

Unlike states where specific charges are prescribed for vehicular crimes, New York traffic law is highly subjective, and convictions normally depend on a prosecutor’s ability to convince a jury of a motorists’s state of mind. The probability of a serious charge after a fatal crash seems to increase when the driver’s actions are especially brazen. It must also be noted that some DAs are more aggressive than others when it comes to prosecuting vehicular crimes.

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Manhattan DA Cy Vance Won’t Prosecute Cab Driver Who Killed 9-Year-Old

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance will file no criminal charges against the cab driver who killed 9-year-old Cooper Stock and injured his father in an Upper West Side crosswalk in January.

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

Lisa Belkin of Yahoo News reports that prosecutors met Wednesday with Cooper’s parents, Richard Stock and Dana Lerner.

“They told me there is nothing in the law right now that specifies that he can be charged with any crime,” Lerner said, describing the meeting. Under New York law, criminal charges can only be brought if a driver who injures or kills a pedestrian commits two misdemeanors at a time. Because the driver, Koffi Komlani, was charged with “failure to yield” but nothing else, he will face a penalty of up to $300 and three points on his license.

First, the “rule of two” is an arbitrary standard that holds that a New York State motorist who is breaking at least two traffic laws at the time of a crash may be charged with criminal negligence. It has no statutory basis, and as a candidate for DA in 2009, Vance pledged to challenge the precedent in court.

Here is a passage that used to appear on a now-defunct page on Vance’s campaign web site:

There is no reason why two traffic violations are necessary in order to support a conviction of criminally negligent homicide. I view the “Rule of Two” as the result of case law which should be modified to reflect the reality that one vehicular crime is fully capable of killing. Although in recent years this notion has been applied by the courts in a less strict manner — it is indisputable that it does not take two violations to kill someone. Many violations — speeding, running a red light, or failing to stop at a stop sign are more than dangerous enough to take a life.

So why did Vance decline to pursue charges for this vehicular killing? As was the case when Vance failed to prosecute the cab driver who severed the leg of a Midtown tourist, the public is left to guess. “A spokesman for the DA’s office said that the agency does not comment on investigations or charges that are not brought,” Belkin reports.

Instead, Vance’s office referred to testimony it provided to the City Council in February: “It can be difficult for people to understand why a crash that seriously injures or kills someone is not always a crime. The reality is that often these cases do not meet the complicated legal requirements for criminal charges.”

It is difficult to understand why Vance is not prosecuting sober reckless drivers who injure, maim, and kill, especially since he refuses to say.

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Brooklyn DA Secures Rare Manslaughter Conviction for Pedestrian Death

In a rare case of an apparently sober motorist facing serious penalties for a fatal crash, an unlicensed hit-and-run driver who killed one Brooklyn pedestrian and seriously injured another pled guilty to manslaughter this week.

Adam Recio pled guilty to manslaughter for the death of Raul De La Cruz (pictured). Possible sentences range from probation to 15 years in prison.

Raul De La Cruz and an unidentified woman were crossing Borinquen Place near Keap Street in Williamsburg at around 5 a.m. on November 15, 2012, when Adam Recio hit them with a Chevrolet Malibu, according to published reports. The victims were thrown into another lane of traffic and were hit by a second driver.

From the Daily News:

They had gotten halfway [across Borinquen Place] and were waiting in the striped area between the yellow lines in the center when the eastbound Chevy, which was trying to pass another vehicle, slammed into them, police said.

“In 30 years of driving I’ve never seen anything like this,” said truck driver Miguel Bocourt, 57. “The guy was going so fast. He was like a bat out of hell.”

De La Cruz “went flying up in the air,” said Bocourt.

De La Cruz, a beloved local figure and 35-year-old father of two young girls, died at the scene. The second victim, then 24, was hospitalized with serious injuries.

With a mangled hood and half the windshield gone, the Malibu was found abandoned five blocks away. Police later arrested Recio, then 27. The driver of the second vehicle was not charged.

Recio was charged by former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes with manslaughter, homicide, assault, reckless endangerment, leaving the scene, reckless driving, and driving without a license. According to court records, on Monday Recio pled guilty to manslaughter, a class C felony with possible sentences ranging from probation to 15 years in prison.

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DA Ken Thompson Won’t Say When DWI Killer Might Drive Again [Updated]

The office of Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson won’t talk about reported developments in the case of a defendant who avoided a homicide charge after killing a pedestrian while driving drunk.

Roxana Gomez

Eric Nesmith hit Roxana Gomez at Flatbush Avenue and St. Marks Avenue with a BMW sedan just after midnight on July 5, 2013, according to witness accounts and the Post. Gomez, 27, suffered massive head injuries. She died on July 10.

The Post reported that Nesmith, then 25, of Newark, had a BAC of .126 — the legal limit for driving is .08 — and ”admitted to cops he had consumed up to six Coronas” while celebrating Independence Day before the crash. FDNY first responders said he was speeding. But Nesmith was not charged with homicide by former Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes or Thompson, who unseated Hynes in last year’s election.

Nesmith pled guilty to operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, an unclassified misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of a year in jail, three years probation, and a $1,000 fine. On April 8, Judge Raymond Rodriguez sentenced him to three years probation and a $500 fine, with no jail time, according to court records. Nesmith’s license was suspended for six months, the default penalty prescribed by state law.

Less than two weeks later, on April 21, Nesmith appeared in court for violating his probation, according to WebCrims, an online portal provided by the New York State Unified Court System. On April 24, court records say, his license was revoked.

On Friday, April 25, Streetsblog called Thompson’s office to confirm that the information posted on WebCrims was correct and, if so, to find out what Nesmith did to violate his probation. We were told to send an email to Sheila Stainback, Thompson’s communications director. Within half an hour, Stainback replied: “We’ll get back to you.”

Stainback emailed twice more that day. “FYI — you have inaccurate information, as there is no probation violation,” she wrote. The second email read: “I don’t know from where WebCrims receives it’s info, but it’s inaccurate on this matter.” Stainback said she would send us a “formal response” by Monday, April 27.

That response never came. Streetsblog followed up with Stainback by email on May 1, and asked if we should expect answers to our questions. “I do have a response,” Stainback replied. “Swamped right now — is tomorrow okay?” We wrote back that a response the following day would be fine, but Stainback didn’t contact us again.

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Until Now, NYS DMV Shielded Driver Violation Histories From Prosecutors

Governor Cuomo announced this week that the state Department of Motor Vehicles will make additional traffic violation data available to prosecutors, but it’s too soon to tell if the change will help make more cases against dangerous drivers.

A Monday press release from Cuomo’s office said prosecutors will in the future be able to obtain information on traffic charges dating back 10 years, even if the original charge was reduced through a plea bargain. Affected charges include violations resulting in license points, drug- and alcohol-related offenses, and aggravated unlicensed operation. The information will be shared so ”prosecutors can make more informed judgments when considering a plea for a current driving charge,” the press release said.

There were a couple of disturbing points about Cuomo’s announcement. One is that this information is only just now being opened up to prosecutors. The second is that drivers are often able to get away with speeding by pleading down to an unrelated charge.

Many times when a motorist goes to court, the original ticket is pled down to a lesser charge. Often this is done because the prosecutor or the court is not aware that the driver has a pattern of dangerous driving behaviors. As an example, it is common practice for courts and prosecutors to allow motorists charged with speeding offenses to plead those charges down to lesser offenses such as parking violations.

In 2010, in town, village, city and district courts, 129,628 speeding charges were pled down from a speeding violation to “parking on pavement.” In 2011, 112,996 such pleas were accepted.

A speeding ticket can add three to 11 license points and can result in DMV action against a license, the press release says. while a “parking on pavement” charge carries no license points. 

John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany, which advocates for transparency in state government, said the policy change was a positive step, but doubted it would make a difference in the number of prosecutions.

“The question is, how will this work in practice?” said Kaehny. “If it’s not totally automated, it won’t be used except in the most serious cases. Prosecutors and investigators are not going to make ad hoc requests to DMV for the tens of thousands cases they see. My guess is that this will be used only for building prosecutions against drivers who kill or almost kill.”

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DA Dan Donovan: Six Months for SI Hit-and-Run Driver Who Killed 5 Year Old

A Staten Island motorist who fled the scene after hitting a mother and two young children, fatally injuring the woman’s 5-year-old son, will serve six months in jail under a plea deal from District Attorney Daniel Donovan.

Kyrillos Gendy was killed by hit-and-run driver John Sanjurjo. Sanjurjo was not charged by Staten Island District Attorney Dan Donovan for killing Kyrillos or injuring his mother and sister, and will serve just six months in jail.

John Sanjurjo ran over Kyrillos Gendy, his 7-year-old sister Gabriella, and 35-year-old Erieny Thomas at around 8:25 p.m. on August 9, 2013, as they crossed Richmond Road. Kyrillos had “severe internal bleeding and no pulse” when he arrived at Staten Island University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to the Times. Gabriella suffered a broken ankle, and Ms. Thomas “had a gash on her face.”

Mr. [Adam] Gendy [Kyrillos's cousin] said the family had not yet told Gabriella what had happened. “That’s a conversation we’re trying to figure out,” he said. “The mom is just an emotional wreck right now. She barely speaks.”

Adam Gendy told the Times he last saw Kyrillos an hour before the crash. “He hugged me, gave me a kiss. He’s very innocent, very full of energy, very loving. Loved Marvel superheroes. Could name you all the superheroes.”

Sanjurjo, accompanied by an attorney, waited until the next day to turn himself in to police. ”Sanjurjo’s 2013 Mercedes-Benz 350 matched the vehicle description, including dents in the hood from the impact,” the Daily News reported. “The force of the impact sent Kyrillos flying through the air. Bits of scattered food that Kyrillos’ family was carrying were found on the car.”

On the day of Kyrillos’s funeral, Sanjurjo, 33, was arraigned and freed on $35,000 bail. He was charged with one count of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death, and two counts of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in injury. ”You got the wrong guy, man,” Sanjurjo told reporters outside the courthouse.

A handful of times in recent memory, New York City district attorneys have brought homicide charges against sober drivers in fatal crashes. But Donovan did not charge Sanjurjo with assault or homicide for injuring Kyrillos’s mom and sister and leaving the boy to die in the street.

New York State law gives drivers an incentive to leave the scene of a serious crash. For one thing, the penalty for hit-and-run is less severe than the penalty for drunk driving. And under current law the decision to issue charges for leaving the scene rests on the ability to divine driver intent, lending credibility to the “I didn’t see him” defense. Cleaning up hit-and-run laws is one of the goals in the de Blasio administration’s Vision Zero plan.

On February 28, Sanjurjo pled guilty to the top leaving the scene charge, a class D felony that carries a maximum penalty of seven years in jail, according to court records and the Staten Island Advance.

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