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Posts from the New York State DMV Category


Civil Suit Compels Man Who Killed Ally Liao to Stop Driving for 5 Years

The corner where Allison Liao was killed was named in her honor. Photo: Families for Safe Streets

The corner where a driver failed to yield and killed Allison Liao was named for her. Photo: Families for Safe Streets

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.

Allison Liao

Allison Liao

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.”


Andrew Cuomo Could (Still) Save Thousands of Lives With One Phone Call

On Monday Andrew Cuomo hailed DMV rule changes that have resulted in license sanctions for recidivist drunk drivers. The governor, who spearheaded the reforms himself, could also use the power of his office to take driving privileges from motorists who habitually commit other deadly violations, like speeding, which kill and injure thousands of New Yorkers every year.

Governor Cuomo has the power to take driving privileges away from chronic reckless drivers, whether or not they drive drunk. Photo: Families for Safe Streets

Governor Cuomo has the power to take driving privileges away from chronic reckless drivers, whether or not they drive drunk. Photo: Families for Safe Streets

In 2012 Cuomo oversaw an update to DMV rules to target the worst drunk driving offenders. Now the DMV permanently revokes licenses from people who have five or more DWI convictions in a lifetime, or three or more DWI convictions in 25 years plus other offenses, such as a fatal crash or the accumulation of 20 or more license points.

As lenient as those standards are, they used to be worse. In the past, repeat drunk drivers whose licenses were suspended or revoked could regain driving privileges in weeks by completing an education program, and drivers with multiple DWI convictions did not permanently lose their licenses unless they were convicted for two DWI crashes resulting in injury.

A Cuomo press release said the reforms have taken more than 8,000 dangerous drivers off the roads in the three years since they took effect. “Impaired and irresponsible driving far too often results in needless tragedy and ramifications that can last a lifetime,” Cuomo said. “These tough regulations have taken chronically dangerous drivers off the roads and helped make this a safer state.”

The updated DMV rules are an improvement, but they don’t do enough to keep reckless drivers from harming people. Four DWI convictions doesn’t mean a person drove drunk four times. It means that person was caught, arrested, and convicted four times. By allowing repeat DWI offenders to keep driving, the DMV is playing Russian roulette with New Yorkers’ lives.

In addition, Cuomo’s DMV reforms don’t address behaviors that cause as many or more serious crashes than drunk driving. In 2013, alcohol contributed to 132 deadly collisions and 4,097 injury crashes in New York State, according to the DMV. By way of comparison, unsafe speed was determined to be a factor in 313 fatal crashes and 12,613 injury crashes, failure to yield in 165 fatal crashes and 21,355 injury crashes, and driver distraction in 127 fatal crashes and 25,098 injury crashes.

In New York City, alcohol was identified as a factor in 15 fatal and 996 injury crashes in 2013, speeding in 69 fatal crashes and 2,933 injury crashes, failure to yield in 52 fatal crashes and 6,369 injury crashes, and distracted driving in 49 fatal crashes and 10,270 injury crashes.

Though their actions harm many more people than drunk drivers, motorists who hurt and kill others while speeding or failing to yield are usually not penalized in any way, and investigators rarely subpoena cell phone records after a crash to determine whether a driver was distracted.

Read more…


DMV: Driver Who Killed Child in Crosswalk May Drive Again After Six Months

Pursuant to a New York State Department of Motor Vehicles hearing, the former cab driver who killed 9-year-old Cooper Stock will regain his driving privileges after six months.

The driver who killed Cooper Stock admitted that he failed to see Cooper and his dad in a crosswalk. After a ruling by the New York State DMV he'll be driving again soon.

The driver who killed Cooper Stock admitted that he failed to see Cooper and his dad in a crosswalk. After a ruling by the New York State DMV he’ll be driving again soon.

In January 2014 Cooper and his father Richard Stock were crossing an Upper West Side street in a crosswalk with the right of way when Koffi Komlani hit them with a yellow taxi. Komlani was summonsed for careless driving and failure to yield. NYPD and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance filed no criminal charges against him.

Komlani pled guilty last April and was sentenced to a $580 fine and a six-month suspension of his drivers license. After a June hearing, DMV administrative law judge Marc Berger suspended Komlani’s license for 180 days. An agency spokesperson told us the DMV penalty is concurrent with the terms of Komlani’s plea arrangement.

According to the Post, video of the crash was submitted as evidence at the DMV hearing.

When two DMV judges watched it, Komlani slumped his head, closed his eyes and put a hand to his face.

He claimed he did not see Cooper in the crosswalk.

“I never saw the son!” he told the judge during the hearing to decide whether he should keep his driver’s license. “I was not on the phone. I was not drunk. I was not on anything. I just missed them!”

A license suspension in New York State means a driver gets his license back once the term of the suspension is over. Had Komlani’s license been revoked he would have been required to file an application to regain his driving privileges, subject to DMV approval.

We asked for a copy of Berger’s findings. The DMV rep directed us to file a freedom of information request.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission did not renew Komlani’s probationary hack license, but under current agency rules he could reapply to drive a cab.

“I cannot understand how any judge, in any court, would not permanently revoke that person’s license when they watched a video of him running over a child right in front of him in plain sight,” Cooper’s mother, Dana Lerner, told us via email. “This man hit my husband and killed my 9-year-old child. Why should he be allowed the privilege of driving?”


DMV: Six-Month Suspension for Driver Who Killed Sammy Cohen Eckstein

The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles determined that the driver who killed 12-year-old Sammy Cohen Eckstein failed to exercise due care and did not have a valid license at the time of the crash. DMV administrative law judge Marc Berger suspended the driver’s license for six months.

Sammy Cohen Eckstein

At around 5:15 p.m. on October 8, 2013, Sammy was attempting to retrieve a ball from Prospect Park West at Third Street when Luis K. Quizhpi-Tacuri hit him with a Chevrolet van. According to findings issued by Berger on June 29 [PDF], Quizhpi-Tacuri admitted that he saw the ball in the street, and saw another driver, traveling in the same direction to his left, come to a stop. Rather than slow down or stop, Quizhpi-Tacuri passed the second vehicle on the right, striking Sammy with the right rear tire of the van.

According to the DMV report, Quizhpi-Tacuri testified at a June 26 hearing that he was traveling at 25 miles per hour when the collision occurred. He also said he was late for a 5:00 appointment.

Wrote Berger:

The sight of a ball rolling into the street in a residential area adjacent to a park in the afternoon should have warned the respondent of the likely presence of children — to carefully observe his surroundings and make appropriate adjustments, including slowing down or stopping if necessary. Additionally, the fact that the vehicle immediately to his left suddenly stopped after the ball passed should have been an indication to the respondent to use extra care instead of passing that vehicle on its right.

Berger found Quizhpi-Tacuri committed three traffic offenses: failure to use due care, passing on the right unsafely, and driving without a valid license. Berger’s report says Quizhpi-Tacuri had a Washington state license at the time of the crash, though he had lived in New York for nine years. New York requires drivers to obtain a new license within 30 days of becoming a resident.

NYPD failed to send any of the officers who investigated the crash to Quizhpi-Tacuri’s DMV hearing, according to Steve Vaccaro, the attorney for Sammy’s family.

NYPD blamed Sammy for the crash and issued no summonses or charges. No charges were filed by former Brooklyn district attorney Charles Hynes or his successor Ken Thompson, who took office in 2014.

Read more…


Why Was New York State DMV Live-Tweeting the New York Auto Show?

The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles was live-tweeting the New York International Auto Show yesterday.

Why would staffers at the government agency charged with regulating motor vehicles and their operators be assigned to tweet photos of the 2016 Chevy Malibu, or wait with press for the big Porsche reveal? We have a message in with the DMV to find out, but it’s hard to imagine how this furthers the mission of administering laws to promote safety.

Sure, scoring passes to a glitzy media event beats sitting behind a desk all day. But this is like the NTSB tweeting Richard Branson’s birthday party. While DMV apparently has the resources to dispatch people to the car show, it hasn’t, say, enacted reforms recommended by crash victims to make streets and roads safe from reckless drivers.

Maybe Governor Muscle Car is filling in before he gets around to appointing a new DMV commissioner.


DMV Suspends License of Driver Who Killed Mathieu Lefevre for Six Months

The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles found the truck driver who killed Brooklyn cyclist Mathieu Lefevre responsible for the collision and suspended his driver’s license for six months.

Mathieu Lefevre. Photo by Chieu-Anh Le Van via Support Justice for Mathieu Lefevre

Leonardo Degianni’s DMV safety hearing took place on March 2, three-and-a-half years after he hit Lefevre at the intersection of Morgan Avenue and Meserole Street. At around midnight on October 19, 2011, Degianni was driving a crane truck, traveling in the same direction as Lefevre, when he struck Lefevre while making a right turn. Degianni did not stop at the scene, and was identified after police found the truck parked a block away.

After initially blaming Lefevre for the crash, NYPD summonsed Degianni for failing to signal and careless driving, but DMV dismissed the tickets. Degianni, who told police he didn’t know he had run Lefevre over, was not charged criminally by NYPD or former Brooklyn district attorney Charles Hynes.

DMV administrative law judge Marc Berger announced his findings from the hearing on March 6 [PDF]. Based on video evidence and testimony from NYPD Detective Gerard Sheehan, who investigated the crash, Berger determined Degianni did not signal his turn and failed to use his mirrors. “Had he signaled 100 feet prior to turning, as required under VTL section 1163(b), Mr. Lefevre would have been alerted, before he even reached the truck, and been able to protect himself by taking evasive action,” Berger wrote.

Berger found that in addition to failing to signal, Degianni failed to exercise due care. “These violations contributed to the accident and warrant taking action against the license and/or driving privileges of the respondent,” Berger wrote.

Berger’s ruling was posted on a new DMV web page that lists hearings resulting from fatal crashes.

In New York State, a license suspension means a motorist can pay a fee and get his license back after the prescribed period — 180 days in Degianni’s case. While it’s technically not as serious as a revocation, which requires a driver to re-apply for a license, a six-month suspension is notable for the DMV, which has a history of going easy on motorists who kill people.

Steve Vaccaro, attorney for the Lefevre family, said in a statement:

On behalf of the families we represent who have lost loved ones in crashes, I welcome the DMV’s decision and process. Mr. Degianni’s 180-day suspension is one of the most serious sanctions to be applied to a sober, reckless driver in a fatal New York City crash in recent memory. The DMV’s new practice of announcing safety hearing results online is also a welcome step for the agency towards greater transparency and accountability.


No Word on Whether Trucker Who Killed Mathieu Lefevre Will Keep License

More than three years after the crash, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles held a hearing today to determine whether to take action against the truck driver who killed cyclist Mathieu Lefevre. But Lefevre’s family will have to wait on a DMV decision.

Mathieu Lefevre. Photo by Chieu-Anh Le Van via Support Justice for Mathieu Lefevre

Lefevre, 30, was killed just after midnight on October 19, 2011, while riding his bike on Morgan Avenue in Brooklyn. As Lefevre approached the intersection of Morgan and Meserole Street, Leonardo Degianni, who was driving a 28-ton crane truck and traveling in the same direction as Lefevre, ran over Lefevre while turning right. Degianni did not stop at the scene, and was identified as the driver after police found the truck parked a block away.

It took a lawsuit and a lot of well-earned negative publicity for NYPD to share information about the crash with Lefevre’s family. NYPD concluded Degianni was unaware he struck Lefevre based on video of the crash. Detective Gerard Sheehan, the crash investigator assigned to the case, also apportioned some blame to Lefevre in his report. Though Degianni did not signal before turning and Lefevre was riding legally, Sheehan said Lefevre “should not have been passing on the right side.”

Lefevre’s family asked Charles Hynes, then the Brooklyn district attorney, to review the case, but Hynes declined to press charges. Degianni was eventually ticketed for failing to signal and careless driving, but the DMV threw out the tickets.

At this morning’s “safety hearing,” DMV administrative law judge Marc Berger heard testimony from Sheehan, who basically repeated the conclusions contained in the NYPD crash report. Berger also reviewed video of the crash, and accepted photos of the scene as evidence.

Berger questioned Sheehan on key details, such as the number and position of the mirrors on the truck, and whether in Sheehan’s opinion Degianni should have known he hit a person on a bicycle. Sheehan at one point indicated he believed Degianni should have seen Lefevre, had he used his mirrors properly, but said police could not determine if Degianni had passed Lefevre prior to the collision. Though the investigation found Degianni made contact with Lefevre on the driver’s side of the truck, Sheehan said drivers of large vehicles often say they didn’t detect running someone over.

Berger did not render a decision today.

Today’s proceeding was a vast improvement over the 2014 hearing when Berger asked the driver who killed Brooklyn pedestrian Clara Heyworth for his analysis of the crash scene. But the DMV adjudication process is still biased to favor motorists who kill people.

Read more…


DMV Revoked License of Driver Who Killed Allison Liao for Just 30 Days

The motorist who killed 3-year-old Allison Liao could be back behind the wheel before long, as the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles revoked his license for just 30 days.

Photo: Brad Aaron

Following a hearing in early January, DMV administrative law judge Sidney Fuchs determined that Ahmad Abu-Zayedeh failed to yield the right of way when he ran over Allison as she walked hand in hand with her grandmother across Main Street in Flushing on October 6, 2013. The DMV revoked Abu-Zayedeh’s license, but the length of the revocation was not announced.

“The respondent failed to use due care, as required by VTL Section 1146, to avoid colliding with a pedestrian,” Fuchs wrote in his January 13 decision [PDF]. “There was no credible testimony as to why the respondent did not avoid this collision.”

Though Fuchs found Abu-Zayedeh at fault, he could be driving again as soon as March. A revocation period of “at least 30 days” begins on February 13, according to DMV documents. After 30 days, Abu-Zayedeh may petition the DMV to have his driving privileges reinstated.

Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao, Allison’s parents, were not available for comment, but issued a statement through their attorney, Steve Vaccaro: “While Judge Fuchs correctly determined that the driver failed to use due care, it is shocking to learn that this is the official consequence of such an outrageous act.”

The DMV does not publicly post records of hearing outcomes or license revocations and suspensions, making it exceedingly difficult to gauge how this 30-day penalty compares to other cases. However, driving while intoxicated carries a mandatory six-month license revocation, as does “homicide, assault or criminal negligence resulting in death from the operation of a motor vehicle,” according to the DMV.

Last year, Families For Safe Streets met with DMV representatives to recommend several agency reforms, including regular publication of hearing outcomes and other data. The DMV has not contacted Families For Safe Streets since then and has not said if it plans to reform its protocols.


Last Call to Make Sure DMV Properly Refunds Biking Tickets


Last summer, we learned that the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles was charging motorist-only surcharges of $88, and applying motorist-only driver’s license penalty points, to cyclists who pled or were found guilty of traffic violations. Our law firm brought a class action to address DMV’s unlawful penalization of cyclists as if they were drivers.

DMV’s response? Refund a “sample” of the surcharges, limit the same wrongful penalties going forward, and urge the court to dismiss the class action suit as “moot” in light of the agency’s hasty and incomplete effort to make up for its mistakes.

Last week, DMV filed its motion to dismiss the class action.

If you want to help make sure that every cyclist wrongfully penalized by DMV gets refunded the unlawful $88 surcharge and has the unlawful points lifted from his or her driver’s license, read on.

Read more…


DMV Revokes License of Driver Who Killed Allie Liao

Chris Robbins at Gothamist reports that the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles has revoked the license of Ahmad Abu-Zayedeh, who struck and killed 3-year-old Allie Liao in a Queens crosswalk in 2013. The decision by administrative law judge Sidney Fuchs reinforces the importance of DMV safety hearings as a venue to ensure that reckless drivers face consequences for killing other people.

Photo: Brad Aaron

On October 6, 2013, Abu-Zayedeh failed to yield to Allie and her grandmother as they crossed Main Street in Flushing with the signal. With Queens District Attorney Richard Brown declining to prosecute and a DMV judge offhandedly tossing the two tickets that had been issued to Abu-Zayedeh, the DMV safety hearing on January 6 was perhaps the last opportunity to hold him accountable for ending Allie Liao’s life.

Fuchs did not render a decision on the day of the hearing, but a DMV spokesperson told Gothamist that the judge revoked Abu-Zayedeh’s license on January 13. The length of the revocation has yet to be announced, reports Robbins.

Attorney Steve Vaccaro, who represents the Liaos, has been raising the profile of DMV safety hearings in a series of Streetsblog posts. He gave this statement in response to the DMV’s decision:

On behalf of the Liao family and the many others who have lost family members to traffic violence, I welcome the news that the New York State DMV has revoked the license of Ahmed Abu-Zayedeh, who struck and killed 3 year old Ally Liao in the crosswalk while she crossed with the right of way, hand-in-hand with her grandmother. This sanction cannot compensate for the harm caused — nothing can. But it affirms our shared understanding that driving is a privilege, not a right, to be forfeited when thoughtless or reckless acts cause grave harm.

Currently, DMV does not appear to be adhering to its policy of holding safety hearings within one year of a fatal crash. The hearing for Abu-Zayedeh happened 15 months after the crash that killed Allie Liao. The safety hearing to review the license of Leonardo Degianni, who killed cyclist Mathieu Lefevre more than three years ago, in October 2011, is scheduled for January 27. Even these delayed hearings may not have happened without public pressure from Vaccaro and victims’ families.

One of the planks in Families For Safe Streets’ DMV reform agenda is to hold these hearings promptly and transparently, with quarterly reports about outcomes. The decision to revoke Abu-Zayedeh’s license is a sign that these reforms matter and can keep dangerous drivers off the streets.