A bereaved family has done what NYPD, city district attorneys, and the New York State DMV usually fail to do: impose meaningful sanctions against a reckless driver, who in this case took the life of 3-year-old Allison Liao.
Ahmad Abu-Zayedeh failed to yield the right of way when he struck Allison as she walked hand in hand with her grandmother across Main Street in Flushing on October 6, 2013. The DMV found Abu-Zayedeh at fault for the crash, but revoked his license for just 30 days.
NYPD summonsed Abu-Zayedeh for failure to yield and careless driving, but filed no criminal charges. The DMV later threw out the tickets. The chief vehicular crimes prosecutor for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, Charles A. Testagrossa, wrote off the crash as a blameless “accident,” and said Abu-Zayedeh was proceeding with a green light. In stories that are still online in their original form, the press falsely reported that Allison “broke free” from her grandmother, implying the victims were at fault.
As is common when drivers injure and kill people in NYC, civil court was the victims’ only available venue to hold the motorist accountable. This month, Allison’s parents, Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao, settled a suit with Abu-Zayedeh. Under the terms of the settlement, Abu-Zayedeh surrendered 75 percent of his net worth, acknowledged complete responsibility for the crash, and signed a notarized agreement to not drive or apply for a license for five years [PDF].
Attorney Steve Vaccaro, who represented the Liaos, told Streetsblog that extended loss of driving privileges and fines that are calculated as a percentage of the driver’s assets are the norm in other countries. “What we’ve attempted to do in this settlement is to bring that much more serious approach toward accountability for reckless driving to the United States in the context of this civil suit,” Vaccaro said.
“It reflects a comprehensive approach toward justice that victims’ families increasingly are taking in these types of cases, and has the potential to change the way drivers regard the risks of reckless driving,” said Vaccaro, who noted that an insurance settlement is the standard civil penalty for a serious crash. “If there are risks like having to make a public apology, having to forgo driving for years, and now with the Right of Way Law, which very much was passed in the wake of and because of Ally Liao’s death, criminal penalties, perhaps drivers will start to get the message about their awesome responsibility to drive safely.”
As members of Families for Safe Streets, Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao have worked with other victims to draw attention to New York City’s reckless driving epidemic, and to advocate for legislative reforms intended to make streets safer.
“It’s been an honor to represent the Liao family,” Vaccaro said. “They should be regarded as heroes by all parents and all New Yorkers for their sacrifice and stance against traffic violence. This settlement, which I consider unprecedented, is due to their perseverance and willingness to make a comprehensive notion of justice their overriding goal.”