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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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Maude Savage and Akkas Ali, Struck by Motorists in 2013, Die From Injuries

The driver of this van barely slowed down as he turned into an occupied crosswalk, striking a senior. Image via Daily News. Video after the jump.

Charged for driving without a license, the maximum penalty against the motorist who fatally struck senior Maude Savage remains 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Image via Daily News

Maude Savage, the 72-year-old who was hit by a motorist in a Brooklyn crosswalk last November, died from her injuries. Though video showed Savage was crossing with the light, charges were not upgraded against the commercial driver who took a corner at speed, striking her a few feet from a grocery store she had just walked out of. After Savage’s death, the maximum penalty against the driver, who was charged the day of the crash with driving without a license, remains 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.

The crash occurred in the early afternoon of November 25 at Sutter and Euclid Avenues. In a security video, you could see Savage waiting for the pedestrian signal and looking both ways before stepping into the street. When she was midway across, the driver of a van covered in DirecTV logos entered the crosswalk, barely slowing as he made a left-hand turn. Savage tried to get out of his path, but the driver struck her with the front end of the van.

Robert Brown was charged by then-District Attorney Charles Hynes with third degree 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.

Reports in the aftermath of the crash said Savage was hospitalized with head injuries. Though several media outlets covered the crash itself — stories were pegged to the DirecTV angle, though Brown was not a DirecTV employee — we found no follow-up coverage. However, the NYPD November crash report recorded one crash at Euclid and Sutter that month, which resulted in one pedestrian fatality.

Several times in recent years, prosecutors have pursued third degree unlicensed operation, a low-level misdemeanor, as the top charge against unlicensed drivers who kill New York City pedestrians. In 2011, Yolanda Casal and Laurence Renard were fatally struck by unlicensed drivers in separate crashes in Manhattan. Casal and her daughter were hit by a recidivist reckless driver as he backed up to get a parking spot; Renard was hit by a dump truck driver on an Upper East Side corner. In each case, Manhattan DA Cy Vance accepted a guilty plea to third degree unlicensed operation, and each motorist was fined $500.

Brown is next scheduled to appear in court on March 5, according to online court records.

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Curb-Jumping Cab Driver Hospitalizes at Least One Pedestrian on East Side

Photo: Lauren Kirsch

A cab driver jumped a curb and hit at least one pedestrian on the East Side this morning, in an NYPD precinct that does not enforce speeding.

Lauren Kirsch of Murray Hill took this photo at Park Avenue and E. 32nd Street at around 8 a.m. FDNY got the call for a pedestrian struck at 7:18. A spokesperson said two people were transported to Bellevue Hospital, conditions unknown.

FDNY could not confirm whether the second person was inside or outside the taxi, which ended up against a building on the northeast corner of the intersection. NYPD had no information.

This injury crash occurred in the Midtown South Precinct, where as of September local officers had issued six speeding tickets all year.

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Charles Hynes Brings Rare Felony Charge in Vehicular Killing of 9-Year-Old

Two motorists were charged for killing pedestrians in the Bronx and Brooklyn this weekend. The alleged driver in the Wakefield crash was charged with murder, and there’s a solid chance that if convicted he will face significant jail time. And though the outcome of the case is far from certain, District Attorney Charles Hynes brought a rare felony charge against the man who allegedly drove onto a sidewalk and struck a 9-year-old boy in Fort Greene.

Anthony Byrd was charged with a class D felony for the death of 9-year-old Lucian Merryweather. Potential sentences range from seven years in jail to probation. Photo: Daily News

Reports in the Times, the News and the Post say that on Saturday afternoon, Anthony Byrd, 59, hit two cars and a building after swerving to avoid two people in a crosswalk at DeKalb and Clermont Avenues. He then reportedly made a U-turn and drove the wrong way on DeKalb, struck a 28-year-old woman in a crosswalk, hit a parked vehicle, and drove onto the sidewalk a second time, striking Lucian Merryweather, his 5-year-old brother, and their mother, who were standing at the northeast corner of the intersection.

Lucian was pinned under the SUV and died at the scene. His brother was hospitalized in stable condition. The boys’ mother was not admitted to a hospital, reports said.

According to court records, Byrd was charged with assault, criminally negligent homicide, first and second degree reckless endangerment, criminal mischief, and a number of traffic infractions, including driving against traffic on a one-way street.

It is rare for NYC prosecutors to file felony charges against a sober driver who remains at the scene of a crash, but it does happen — at least in Brooklyn. In 2010, Hynes charged Michael Oxley with homicide for the killing of cyclist Jake McDonaugh on Flatbush Avenue. In 2007, Alfred Taylor was charged with homicide for the death of a cyclist in Bedford Stuyvesant.

More unusual is that Hynes brought an assault charge in this case. Assault is a class D felony, punishable by up to seven years, but which can also result in no jail time or probation. Relatively speaking, the more common top charge would be criminally negligent homicide — a class E felony, the least severe felony category, which carries a maximum penalty of four years in jail, and a minimum of no jail time or probation.

The rationale for bringing charges against a sober driver who remains at the scene is not usually defined, but there could be a link between serious charges and more brazen forms of recklessness. The Michael Oxley case hinged on the defendant running a red light. Saturday’s incident was a particularly chaotic and devastating crash, even by NYC standards, and allegedly involved wrong-way driving. Byrd is also a registered sex offender.

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Still No Charges From Queens DA Brown Against Driver Who Hit Five Kids

Nearly a month after a motorist mounted a curb and hit a group of kids near a school in Maspeth, no charges have been filed by Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. It appears Brown’s office is leaving it up to NYPD to decide whether prosecutors will pursue a case.

On the morning of September 12, Francis Aung Lu drove a Honda SUV onto the sidewalk at Grand Avenue and 71st Street, near Frank Sansivieri Intermediate School, hitting five children outside a corner deli. Bajram Kacic, 11, suffered a leg injury. Angie Peña, 13, was hospitalized in critical condition. Marina Abadir, 14, suffered head trauma, multiple spine fractures, and required surgery on both elbows. Ashley Khan, 13, who with Abadir was pinned under the vehicle, had fractures to her pelvis and legs, among other injuries.

Michael Gomez, 13, died on September 14. Reports published in the immediate aftermath of the crash indicated Gomez had a “swollen arm.” Media outlets cited anonymous sources who said Gomez died from an asthma attack. The medical examiner’s office did not respond to a Streetsblog query concerning Gomez’s death.

When we asked Brown’s office the day after the crash if  the DA would subpoena the driver’s cell phone records and vehicle EDR data, a spokesperson said no action would be taken unless NYPD determined “criminality.” At that time NYPD said the crash was in the hands of the Collision Investigation Squad.

“The police have made no referrals to the District Attorney’s Office,” said a Brown spokesperson, in an email last Friday. “You will have to contact the NYPD for a status of their investigation.”

Streetsblog has queried the NYPD public information office several times concerning this crash, but we have yet to learn if the CIS investigation is still active. Local Council Member Elizabeth Crowley has called for traffic-calming measures and lower speed limits in the area, but it is still unknown whether law enforcement will hold this driver accountable, or even if phone records or EDR data were collected.

Since September 13, at least seven pedestrians have been killed by drivers in Queens, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog. The victims include a senior and a 3-year-old child — Allison Liao, run over by a motorist in Flushing last Sunday. No charges are known to have been filed in the three of the seven cases where the driver was sober and remained at the scene.

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With No Charges From Cy Vance or NYPD, Curb-Jumping Cabbie Driving Again

Six weeks after cab driver Mohammed Himon drove onto a Midtown sidewalk and hit tourist Sian Green, severing her leg, Green is back home in England. Meanwhile, Himon is again driving a taxi, as no charges have been filed against him by NYPD or Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.

Sian Green is back home in England, and after no charges were filed by NYPD or DA Cy Vance, the cab driver who maimed her is back driving the streets. Photo: Daily News

The August 20 crash attracted international attention — a young tourist horrifically injured on a gorgeous day in the heart of Midtown, her life saved by a plumber and celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz. NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and Vance’s office announced investigations, which is never a given when a motorist maims or kills in NYC. Himon pleaded guilty to a suspension summons and surrendered his hack license on August 23, but the Taxi and Limousine Commission says he reclaimed it on September 26.

“Without any action having been taken against him by the DA’s office or the NYPD, there’s no lawful basis for TLC to have held it beyond the 30-day suspension he served,” said TLC spokesperson Allan Fromberg, “so his license was reinstated.”

After a cab driver killed a senior in the West Village last year, the TLC told Streetsblog that unless a cabbie faces criminal charges, or a consumer files a complaint, the agency can’t take action against a driver who harms a pedestrian. Potential sanctions include the suspension of a driver’s TLC license, and additional actions can be taken based on the outcome of a case.

The Wall Street Journal reported in September that, due to a record-keeping error, for the past three years the TLC allowed 4,500 dangerous cabbies to keep driving without penalty, including 600 drivers with 10 or more points on their records.

According to published reports, Himon has a history or reckless driving, with three moving violations in 2011, including citations for running a red light and doing 65 mph in a 45 mph zone, resulting in nine points on his license. He was also involved in another crash that resulted in injury, reports said.

Himon reportedly drove a quarter of a block on a Midtown sidewalk with a cyclist on the hood before slamming into Green. He confessed to the media that he intentionally stepped on the gas before mounting the curb. Green has said Himon should be charged criminally. Yet city law enforcers and the agency charged with regulating cab drivers are either unable or unwilling to keep a habitually dangerous cabbie from endangering other innocent people.

Vance’s office was highly critical of our initial coverage of this crash, when we cited media tips from law enforcement sources who said Himon would not face criminal charges. Vance’s office would not comment when we asked about this case in September. We contacted the office this morning to ask if the investigation is still active. We have yet to hear back.

Update: Cy Vance’s office sent us this statement: “This case is an open and active investigation.”

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No Charges for Curb-Jumping Driver Who Killed Michael Munoz in Queens

Photo: New York Post

Another curb-jumping driver has killed a NYC pedestrian, and as usual no charges have been filed by NYPD.

Michael Munoz, 42, was selling water on a Whitestone Expressway service road at 20th Avenue, in Queens, when he was struck at around 2:15 p.m. Monday. From WABC:

The 78-year-old driver was in a black Toyota Camry when investigators say for one reason or another, the driver lost control of the vehicle and slammed into Munoz and a steel post that holds a gate entering a corporate plaza.

The car hit with such force that it nearly pushed the post out of the asphalt.

Munoz died at New York Hospital in Queens. The driver and a passenger were treated for injuries.

Michael Munoz. Photo via NY Post

Neither police nor WABC reporter Joe Torres are apparently interested in why the driver “lost control,” but Torres does include this bit of victim-blaming: “Eyewitness News has learned that Munoz sold water not just from the sidewalk, but also from right on the service road.”

At least nine NYC pedestrians have died in 2013 after motorists drove onto sidewalks, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog, and countless victims have sustained life-altering injuries. Unless a driver is drunk or fleeing police, curb-jump crashes, no matter how severe, rarely result in criminal charges. City Council Member Mark Weprin is exploring the possibility of legislation that would make it a crime to drive on a New York City sidewalk.

Reports say Munoz suffered a serious head injury, and that a witness performed CPR until responders arrived. He lived in a nearby hotel with his father, and was selling bottles of water to motorists after he lost his job as a tennis coach, according to the Queens Courier and the Post.

The victim’s brother told WABC that their mother was killed by a driver years ago. “I’m angry but that’s not gonna do nothing, I’m more sad because I’m not going to see my brother again,” said Raphael Munoz. “We were just making plans to go see my mother at the graveyard.”

Less than four hours after the crash, the Post reported that, according to NYPD, “no criminality” is suspected.

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Street Improvements Alone Won’t Prevent the Next Curb-Jump Crash

A child who was struck by a curb-jumping motorist near a Maspeth school last Thursday died two days later. Parents this week vented to Council Member Elizabeth Crowley and DOT about unsafe conditions in the area. No charges have been filed against the driver by NYPD or Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, and after immediately declaring the crash an “accident,” Crowley has had nothing to say about the investigation.

Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, left, and Queens DOT commissioner Dalila Hall, second from right, met with parents this week to discuss street improvements near schools on Grand Avenue in Maspeth. Photo: The Forum

Michael Gomez, 13, died at Elmhurst Hospital on Saturday. Reports published in the immediate aftermath of the crash indicated Gomez had a “swollen arm” after he and four other students were struck when Francis Aung Lu drove a Honda SUV onto the sidewalk at Grand Avenue and 71st Street, near Frank Sansivieri Intermediate School.

No official cause of death has been released, but media outlets including the Post and the Daily News cited anonymous sources who said Gomez died from an asthma attack. The Times-Ledger reported yesterday that “a spokeswoman for the city medical examiner could only say that the death at Elmhurst Hospital was being investigated.” Streetsblog has a message in with the medical examiner’s office.

Bajram Kacic, 11, suffered a leg injury from the crash. Angie Peña, 13, was hospitalized in critical condition. Marina Abadir, 14, suffered head trauma, multiple spine fractures, and had surgery on both elbows. Ashley Khan, 13, who with Abadir was pinned under the vehicle, had fractures to her pelvis and legs, among other injuries.

A group of parents met with Crowley and Queens DOT commissioner Dalila Hall on Monday. From the Forum:

The legislator, parents and civic leaders said they would like to see speed limits reduced from about 69th to 80th streets along Grand Avenue — where a city study found about 98 percent of vehicles speed — to accommodate students at IS 73, PS 58 and Maspeth High School.

“Between these three buildings, there’s close to 4,000 students here,” said Joann Berger, the PTA president for IS 73 and president of the Presidents’ Council for District 24. “There are a lot  – a lot — of kids walking around here in the morning and afternoon.”

Parents want a DOT “slow zone,” truck restrictions in the hours before school starts, and crossing guards, the Forum reports. “We’re afraid for our children’s lives,” said Maryann Johnson, president of the PTA at PS 58.

Parents said reckless drivers are a major problem near area schools. “It’s not just kids being kids,” said Johnson, as quoted by the Times-Ledger. “It’s drivers being bad drivers.”

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NYPD: “No Evidence of Wrongdoing” in Curb-Jump Crash That Killed Senior

Other than driving without a license, no laws were broken here, according to NYPD. Photo: Daily News

Two drivers, one of them unlicensed, collided at an intersection in Dyker Heights late Tuesday morning with sufficient force to send a pickup truck through a bus shelter where several people were waiting for the B4. James McCloskey, 71, was killed. NYPD says no one did anything wrong.

The crash occurred between 11:30 and 11:40 a.m., according to reports, when the driver of a minivan and the driver of the truck slammed into each other at Bay Ridge Parkway/75th Street and 13th Avenue. Others managed to get out of the way, but McCloskey, who was sitting on the bench, couldn’t escape in time. The truck ripped the bench from the sidewalk and smashed through the shelter glass.

“Everybody got together, tried to help the man,” said witness Eric Aminov, to WCBS. “We couldn’t help, really, like you know — what else we could do?”

McCloskey died Tuesday afternoon at Lutheran Hospital. He was at least the fifth senior killed by a New York City motorist in the last month, and at least the 25th pedestrian or cyclist age 65 or older to die in traffic in 2013, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog.

WCBS and the Daily News reported that the driver of the minivan was ticketed for driving with an expired license. The speed limit at this intersection is no more than 30 miles per hour. Both vehicles were damaged extensively, and photos show that the minivan’s airbags deployed. Assuming traffic signals were functioning properly — there is so far nothing to indicate otherwise — and since one of the drivers was allegedly breaking the law just by being behind the wheel, it is difficult to imagine a scenario where neither driver did anything to precipitate this deadly collision. Unless you investigate crashes for NYPD.

From the Brooklyn Paper:

The investigation is ongoing, according to police, but said the driver of the truck made no attempt to flee the scene, and there was as yet no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Council Member Mark Weprin: Driving on a NYC Sidewalk Should Not Be Legal

Ride a bike on a sidewalk in New York City and you are subject not only to a traffic ticket, but a criminal summons. Amazingly, there is no commensurate penalty for the curb-jumping motorist, despite the potential to inflict far greater harm, and countless deaths and injuries that occur every year. Unless intoxication is a factor, prosecutions are rare — even for crashes that result in death — possibly in part because the act of driving on a city sidewalk is itself not a crime.

City Council Member Mark Weprin

In connection with his StreetsPAC endorsement, Council Member Mark Weprin pledged to, in StreetsPAC’s words, “champion legislation in the city council to ensure serious consequences for drivers who, through their own negligence, hop curbs and strike pedestrians on sidewalks.” Weprin says his staff is looking into how such a bill would be crafted.

“We’re going to see what the best possible solution would be,” Weprin told Streetsblog. ”Obviously, the circumstances need to help dictate this a little bit. People’s state of mind and all of that is a big part of it, whether they were reckless in what they did or not. But when someone gets hurt someone needs to pay a price.”

Attorney Steve Vaccaro, a StreetsPAC board member who represents pedestrians and cyclists, says the city needs a law based on current regulations against sidewalk bike riding, which do not require recklessness.

When a cop stops a cyclist for sidewalk riding, Vaccaro says, “There’s no inquiry into whether the cyclist intended to be on a sidewalk, or disregarded a risk that they might end up on a sidewalk, or failed to perceive a risk of ending up on the sidewalk, which would be a criminal negligence standard. There’s just, ‘You’re on the sidewalk, you’re operating a bicycle.’”

“Unless you can show that someone picked you up and put you down and made you go on the sidewalk through no fault of your own, you are guilty of a misdemeanor,” says Vaccaro. “That’s strict liability.”

Vehicular law in New York State generally disfavors strict liability, Vaccaro says, putting the burden on police and prosecutors to prove intent — including the recent case where a driver jumped a curb and hit a parking meter and five people without stopping. “If you’re not drunk, there has to be smoking gun evidence of recklessness that’s shoved in the face of the police or they’ll just call it a mistake.” Vaccaro says. “There’s this incredible disconnect.”

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