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Off-Duty NYPD Officer Seriously Injures Child in Jackson Heights Crosswalk

The crosswalk where Chunli Mendoza, age 5, and her mother were injured by an off-duty NYPD officer on Tuesday. Photo: Stephen Miller

The crosswalk where Chunli Mendoza, age 5, and her mother were injured by an off-duty NYPD officer on Tuesday. Photo: Stephen Miller

Just after 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, 5-year-old Chunli Mendoza was walking to P.S. 228 with her mother. They were midway across Northern Boulevard at 92nd Street, just a block away from the school, when they were struck by an off-duty NYPD officer. Chunli was seriously injured and remains at Elmhurst Hospital after undergoing surgery on her leg. Her mother, hospitalized for a foot fracture, was released on Thursday.

NYPD says the mother and daughter were struck by an off-duty officer driving a white pickup truck. The driver has not been charged and no summonses were issued. ”We hope the girl makes a full recovery,” an anonymous police official told DNAinfo. “Unfortunately it was a tragic traffic accident.”

Witnesses offered their version of events to reporters yesterday at a rally held by Make Queens Safer at the intersection.

Maria Jose Penaherrera, 37, has a daughter in the first grade at PS 228. She was driving to school that morning and was three cars back from the intersection when the crash occurred. While she did not see a white pickup truck, she does remember a black sedan making a U-turn in the intersection before traffic inched forward and she could see a girl down in the street.

“I knew it was a girl from PS 228 because of the uniform,” she said.

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Mother of Cooper Stock: NYPD Must Hold Reckless Cab Drivers Accountable

Update: According to a spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio, today’s scheduled bill signing was postponed.

After a Wednesday hearing where he was joined by council members and department heads, Mayor de Blasio is scheduled to sign a package of bills today aimed at improving traffic safety. Though its signing will come later due to a scheduling conflict, one bill sent to the mayor by the council was Intro 171, also known as “Cooper’s Law.”

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

The bill’s namesake, 9-year-old Cooper Stock, was fatally struck by a cab driver in an Upper West Side crosswalk in January. His father, Richard Stock, was injured in the collision.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission said Koffi Komlani’s probationary hack license won’t be renewed when it expires in July. Regardless, though Komlani has reportedly not driven a cab since the day of the crash, for now he remains in good standing with the TLC, despite the fact that he drove into two people who were crossing the street legally with sufficient speed to cause grave harm.

“The TLC did nothing,” said Cooper’s mother Dana Lerner. “They did nothing. They didn’t take his license. They didn’t do anything.”

According to the New York Post, the TLC can currently suspend hack licenses for 30 days only when a cab driver has six or more points, and can’t revoke a license until a driver has more than 10 points. Summonses for failure to yield and running a red light add three points to a hack license, a reckless driving summons adds five points, and a ticket for driving from 31 to 40 miles per hour over the speed limit adds eight points.

Reports said Komlani had no prior violations on his record. A summons for failure to yield is still pending, according to Lerner, and Komlani was not charged by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.

When Cooper’s Law takes effect, the TLC will be allowed to suspend or revoke hack licenses of cab drivers who cause critical injury or death as a result of breaking traffic laws. But as we reported in May, penalties will depend on whether NYPD issues charges or summonses after a crash. As it stands, police investigate only a fraction of serious crashes, and fewer than 1 percent of New York City drivers who injure and kill pedestrians and cyclists are cited for careless driving.

Lerner has seen the data on NYPD enforcement of state vulnerable user laws, which the department says it can’t apply unless the Collision Investigation Squad is dispatched or an officer witnesses a violation. “That’s the key issue,” Lerner said. “If the NYPD doesn’t enforce, none of these laws have any meaning.”

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Seattle Opens Up Neighborhood Streets for Kids to Play

Seattle launched its "play streets" program on Friday. Photo: Seattle Department of Transportation

Seattle launched its Play Streets program on Friday. Photo: Seattle Department of Transportation

At St. Terese Academy in Seattle last week, students held relay races on 35th Avenue. It was field day at the Madrona neighborhood school, and thanks to a new initiative from the city of Seattle, the kids had some extra space to stretch their legs.

The elementary school was the first to take part in Seattle’s new “Play Streets” program, which launched last Friday. ”Play Streets” will allow community groups to apply for permits to keep traffic off their block specifically to establish safe, temporary spaces for children to play.

Jennifer Wieland, manager of Seattle DOT’s Public Space Management Program, which oversees Play Streets, said the city was acting on numerous requests from residents. The city has for years operated a program for block parties, which allows neighbors to request a permit for a temporary car-free street. But Seattleites started to ask about scheduling car-free events with greater regularity and incorporating play equipment like swings and sand boxes.

“It’s about having that little extra bit of community speace to do something creative,” said Wieland. “It’s really out of people’s desires to build community and create great neighborhoods.”

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NYPD Fails to Charge Driver Who Killed a Child in Red Hook This Morning

Witnesses say a driver hit 14-year-old Nicholas Soto with enough force to throw him away from the street and over a nearby fence. NYPD filed no charges. Image: Google Maps

Witnesses say a driver hit 14-year-old Nicholas Soto with enough force to throw him away from the street and over a nearby fence. NYPD filed no charges. Image: Google Maps

A motorist killed a teenager in Red Hook this morning.

Nicholas Soto, 14, was crossing Lorraine Street at Hicks Street at around 7:00 when the driver of a BMW sedan slammed into him.

From WNBC:

Witnesses said the force of the impact flung the boy up in the air and over a fence.

Millie Mendez said the sound of the boy being hit was so loud she thought two cars had collided. When she realized it was a boy, not a car, that had been hit, she said she couldn’t believe it.

“He was bleeding everywhere,” Mendez said.

Mendez and others told WNBC speeding is a problem in the area. “The cars come like they’re on a thruway,” Mendez said. ”They need a light, speed bump, they need something on this corner because this is dangerous right here,” said resident Edward Ulsalston.

Photos from the scene show the BMW with front end damage and a cracked windshield, signs that the victim was thrown onto the hood. Though photos and witness accounts point to driver speed as a factor, police told WNBC that “No criminality is suspected.”

Daily News reporter Rocco Parascandola, meanwhile, cited an unnamed police source who blamed the victim.

A 14-year-old racing to catch a school bus was struck and killed by a car in Brooklyn Monday morning, police said.

Nicholas Soto was rushing across Hicks St. at Lorraine St. just before 7 a.m. when he was struck by a 2004 BMW heading west on Lorraine.

Nicholas, who lived nearby, died a short time later at Methodist Hospital.

The driver remained at the scene and will not likely be charged.

A police source said the teen’s vision may have been partially obstructed by his hoodie.

“It appears to be a tragic accident,” the source said.

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How Do You Educate Kids on Street Safety When Drivers Are Dangerous?

Last week, DOT rolled out a new pedestrian safety video for its school-based education programs. Set to a hip-hop beat, the four-minute video is aimed squarely at young New Yorkers. It dissects three scenarios to educate kids about safely navigating city streets. But you’ll notice that in two of the scenarios, it’s drivers who are breaking the law.

The first scenario features a girl in the crosswalk who looks up from her phone to see a turning driver about to hit her. She’s then admonished to look before stepping off the curb and put her phone away. A second scenario shows two young kids in the crosswalk who spot a driver quickly approaching the stop sign and stopping too close to them in the crosswalk. The video advises the children to look before crossing and make eye contact with the driver and wave at her. In neither example does the video say that drivers have a legal or moral obligation to yield to pedestrians.

Kim Wiley-Schwartz, DOT’s assistant commissioner for education and outreach, said the program tries to give students traffic safety basics that acknowledge that not everyone on New York City’s streets plays by the rules. ”This is how kids get killed and injured,” she said. ”Kids are expecting all drivers to stop.”

Similar to DOT’s Safety City course, the first two scenarios teach that pedestrians have to do more than obey the law to stay safe on NYC streets. ”We’re trying to look at the realities of New York. The most important thing we can teach children is to look for turning vehicles,” Wiley-Schwartz said. “You cannot count on drivers yielding to you, even though that’s the law.”

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Hit-and-Run Driver Charged With Reckless Driving for Killing 5-Year-Old

Last night just before 8:30, five-year-old Roshard Charles was crossing Empire Boulevard between Nostrand Avenue and Rogers Avenue with his mother, his baby brother, and a friend. They were just outside his family’s apartment when a double-parked driver threw her car in reverse, hit the gas and killed the boy as he was about to reach the sidewalk. The driver fled the scene, but now faces hit-and-run and reckless driving charges.

Rashard Charles. Photo: DNAinfo

Roshard Charles. Photo: DNAinfo

DNAinfo spoke this afternoon with Roshard’s mother, 27-year-old Rochelle Charles:

“I was with my baby. He was right here with me. She double parked. She wasn’t moving. She was just there. We were already walking, about to go on the sidewalk. And that’s when she started reversing really fast…I said, ‘Stop!’ I banged on [the van]. She reversed back. She heard me. She looked back. She tried to get him out of the wheel. And then she just drove off…How could you leave like that? I kept telling her to stop.”

Witnesses lifted the boy onto the hood of a nearby car and attempted to keep him awake before paramedics arrived, according to the Daily News. Charles was taken to Kings County Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. NYPD says no one else was injured in the crash.

“I love him so much. I took really good care of him,” Rochelle Charles told DNAinfo. “Saturday we went to Applebee’s. It’s just me and him. Last week, we went to the movies.”

The Daily News reported that the child “darted away from his mom” before the driver crushed him, but other media accounts do not include this allegation, and NYPD told Streetsblog this afternoon that this claim was not part of its record of the crash. The Collision Investigation Squad continues to investigate the death.

After striking Charles, driver Elizabeth Mayard, 23, of Brooklyn, fled the scene, running red lights as she drove westbound on Empire. According to the Wall Street Journal, another driver who saw the crash followed her for two blocks before she pulled over and the witness convinced her to go back to the crash scene. Another witness at the scene described Mayard as hysterically crying and apologizing. She now faces charges for leaving the scene of a fatal crash, reckless driving, and three red light violations.

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As Lucian Merryweather’s Family Grieves, Charges Against His Killer Reduced


Lucian Merryweather was one of at least 10 children age 12 and under killed by a New York City motorist in the last 12 months. As his family tries to cope with his death and joins others in demanding an end to traffic violence, court records say charges were downgraded against the driver who killed Lucian and injured his younger brother, Theodore.

“Our life the way it was is over,” said Lucian’s father, Gregory Merryweather, in a video by Sam Hagens, Leon Mastik, and Pieter Munnik, posted last week on The Nabe, a site produced by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. ”So ‘normal’ isn’t really the point anymore. It’s about finding another way to exist.”

“When you step back and look at it, you are surprised that that is your new community. You never envision yourself being one of those people.”

Anthony Byrd, 59, was indicted last month for the November 2 crash, which also injured a third pedestrian. Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson described what happened in a February 14 press release:

According to the indictment, video surveillance showed that on November 2, 2013, at 12:49 PM, Byrd drove his 2000 Ford Expedition westbound along Dekalb Avenue. As Byrd made a left hand turn onto Clermont Avenue, he narrowly avoided hitting two pedestrians who were walking their dog. Byrd’s S.U.V. then swerved to the right and onto a sidewalk where he struck the exterior of a restaurant, The Black Iris, located at 228 Dekalb Avenue, and a parked vehicle. Pedestrians can be seen on the video running as the vehicle made a U-turn onto the sidewalk.

Byrd then accelerated his vehicle in a diagonal direction into oncoming traffic on Dekalb Avenue. The vehicle then struck a westbound car while driving in the wrong direction along Dekalb Avenue. According to the indictment, Byrd then veered off Dekalb Avenue and onto Clermont Avenue, where he struck and broke the leg of pedestrian Elaine Driscoll, 29. Byrd then hit 4-year-old and 9-year-old brothers who were walking down the street with their mother, Anna Kovel.

Lucian was pinned under the SUV and died at the scene. Theodore was severely injured, according to the press release.

“The death of this innocent 9-year-old child and the severe injuries to his 4-year-old brother were truly tragic and avoidable and we will seek to hold the defendant accountable for his actions,” Thompson said in the release. “The people of Brooklyn must be free to walk down the streets of our borough without fear that they may be run over or injured by a motorist driving dangerously.”

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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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DOT Plans Changes for UWS Intersections After Pedestrian Deaths [Updated]

Video: Barron Lerner, uncle of Cooper Stock, speaks at last night’s CB 7 forum.

Update: DOT’s presentation on the intersection of Broadway and W. 96th Street is here.

DOT last night presented proposals to improve conditions for pedestrians in an area of the Upper West Side where three people were killed by motorists in January.

The Community Board 7 forum was packed with residents and electeds, who are looking to the city to take action in the wake of the deaths of Cooper Stock, Alexander Shear, and Samantha Lee.

At 96th and Broadway, where Shear was struck by the driver of a tour bus, the biggest change would be a ban on left turns from Broadway by southbound drivers, and the addition of a crosswalk linking Broadway’s center medians north and south of 96th, according to CB 7 member Ken Coughlin.

There is a subway entrance in the middle of Broadway on the south side of the intersection, a project that precipitated the removal of a significant amount of sidewalk space. Coughlin told Streetsblog pedestrians at the northwest corner of the intersection can be forced to wait almost two minutes to reach the subway entrance, since they have to cross both 96th Street and Broadway.

In addition to reducing conflicts between pedestrians and turning drivers, Coughlin says “The new plan gives pedestrians a second option, to cross in the middle, and cuts the wait way down.” Left turns from northbound Broadway onto 96th would still be allowed, Coughlin says.

“These [southbound] turns are currently very dangerous for pedestrians because the turn phase starts before those crossing 96th on the east side of Broadway get their walk signal,” says Coughlin. “Seeing traffic on 96th stopped for a red, many pedestrians start walking, unaware that turning traffic is coming toward them to their left.”

At W. 97th Street and West End Avenue, Gothamist reports that DOT has increased the leading pedestrian interval from six to 12 seconds, will be adding “yield to pedestrians” signage, and will consider adjusting signal times on 97th from Amsterdam Avenue to Riverside Drive. Most important, DOT will daylight the intersection by removing three parking spots, according to Gothamist.

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Barron Lerner: It’s Time to Treat Reckless Driving Like Drunk Driving

The most basic flaw in the New York State traffic justice system is that in most cases it fails to hold motorists accountable for deadly recklessness. Unless a motorist is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, killing someone with a car is usually not considered a crime.

Barron Lerner. Photo: ##http://medicine.med.nyu.edu/medhumanities/featured-writing/lerner-why-history-of-medicine##NYU##

Barron Lerner. Photo: NYU

In a column for the Times, Barron Lerner, whose 9-year-old nephew Cooper Stock was killed by a cab driver in Manhattan this month, says it’s time to treat reckless driving like drunk driving. “Reckless driving, circa 2014, is what drunk driving was prior to 1980: it is poorly defined in the law, sometimes poorly investigated by police and almost never results in a criminal charge,” he writes.

An NYU professor and author of “One for the Road: Drunk Driving Since 1900,” Lerner writes that today’s attitudes toward everyday recklessness resemble societal and legal norms during the decades when efforts to criminalize drunk driving were met with “cultural indifference.”

Well into the 1970s, police and prosecutors looked the other way, seeing drunk drivers either as diseased alcoholics, young men sowing their wild oats or, paradoxically, victims themselves, even if they killed or maimed people. Judges and juries — perhaps because they, too, secretly drank and drove or knew those who did — were reluctant to convict.

Police told family members that their loved ones — the actual victims — had been “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Crashes were called accidents.

This is, of course, exactly how law enforcement reacts to crashes like the one that killed Cooper Stock, who was in a crosswalk with his father when both were hit by a cab driver who reportedly took a turn without slowing down. No charges were filed against the driver, and no action was taken against his hack license.

“The police reassured my brother-in-law, Dr. Richard G. Stock, who was holding Cooper’s hand at the time of the crash, that a Breathalyzer done at the scene was negative,” Lerner writes. “Yet merely looking for alcohol or drug involvement by the driver misses the point.”

In the 80s, Lerner writes, collective action by parents and other loved ones, through groups like MADD, forced a “sea change” that brought about laws that toughened penalties and lowered legally acceptable blood alcohol levels. Their activism also attached a social stigma to driving drunk, making the public realize that “drunk drivers were still responsible for the damage they caused, even though the harms they inflicted were unintentional.”

Lerner says a similar shift is needed if New York City is to achieve Vision Zero. “If Cooper died because an impatient or distracted driver made a careless decision, then that driver should be as guilty of a crime as someone who drank alcohol or used drugs before driving,” he writes. “Let’s make destruction caused by irresponsible driving a true crime. And let’s do it soon.”