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Posts from the "Hit-and-Run" Category

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Why Is NYPD Defending Hit-and-Run Drivers to the Press?

NYPD declined to speculate on whether a driver was speeding before a fatal hit-and-run crash, yet told the press the victim was jaywalking. Image: News 12

Update: The victim in the Rockaway Parkway crash was identified as Alex Davis, according to DNAinfo. Police said he was hit by the driver of a Ford Mustang. The driver remained at large as of November 7.

Hit-and-run drivers have killed two New York City pedestrians in the past week. After each crash NYPD sources either defended the motorist or blamed the victim in the press.

At approximately 9:30 p.m. last Thursday, the driver of a private sanitation truck ran over a 59-year-old man on Canal Street in Chinatown, according to NYPD. The man’s body was found near Centre Street, but police didn’t know where the collision occurred. NYPD had not released the victim’s name as of this morning, and no arrests had been made.

“It was not immediately clear if the driver was aware that a pedestrian had been hit, police said,” reported DNAinfo. To see justice done for this victim and his loved ones, this is a critical detail.

To secure a conviction against a hit-and-run driver in New York State, prosecutors must prove the motorist knew or had reason to know he hit someone, causing personal injury. Thanks to state laws that favor reckless drivers, when a New York motorist strikes a pedestrian and leaves the scene, “I didn’t see him” is not an admission of guilt, but a potent defense strategy. So in effect, NYPD has offered a preemptive defense for the motorist who claimed this person’s life.

In the second crash, a hit-and-run driver in a “dark-colored sedan” killed a 59-year-old man on Rockaway Parkway near Winthrop Avenue, in Brownsville, early Saturday. The victim’s identity is still being withheld pending family notification, NYPD said, and the driver remains at large.

Local residents told NY1 that speeding is rampant on the segment of Rockaway Parkway where Saturday’s crash occurred.

“If we were able to put a mid-block crosswalk and a light that split it right down the middle, tragedies like this wouldn’t happen because people would have an option to cross,” one area resident said.

“This intersection is never safe. It’s always somebody getting hit by a car. It’s always a child getting clipped by a car a vehicle. Everybody’s always speeding, not trying to stop at the lights. Everybody’s just in a rush,” another said.

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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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City Council Creates Fines for Hit-and-Run Drivers, Calls on Albany to Act

Minutes ago, the City Council unanimously passed a bill that would levy civil penalties against hit-and-run drivers. Fines start at $500, increasing to $2,000 for drivers who leave injured victims and $10,000 for drivers who cause serious injury or death. The bill now goes to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is expected to sign it.

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer speaks while honoring the work of Make Queens Safer before the City Council passed a bill creating civil penalties for hit-and-run crashes. Photo: JimmyVanBramer/Twitter

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer honors the work of Make Queens Safer before the City Council passed a bill creating civil penalties for hit-and-run crashes. Photo: JimmyVanBramer/Twitter

The bill does not include criminal penalties. Currently, the state classifies most hit-and-run crashes as misdemeanors, not felonies. This creates a perverse incentive for drunk drivers, who can avoid a felony conviction if they flee the scene and get tagged with a lesser hit-and-run charge instead.

Today’s City Council bill aims to reduce the incentive to flee the scene, but it’s up to Albany to reform state law. For years, a bill to upgrade hit-and-run to an automatic class E felony has passed the Senate but failed in the Assembly.

“The state has to act,” City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez said at a press conference before today’s vote. “We need to pass tougher legislation at the state level that provides the tools that the NYPD and the DAs are missing right now to prosecute drivers that commit those crimes.”

The bill could be hamstrung by language requiring that a driver must know or have cause to know that he caused property damage, injury, or death before penalties can be assessed. In these situations, a driver’s word that he or she didn’t see the victim could let them off the hook.

The bill also hinges on NYPD’s ability to catch hit-and-run drivers in the first place. Of 60 fatal hit-and-run crashes investigated in 2012, NYPD arrested just 15 drivers, according to Transportation Alternatives. Last month, cyclist Dulcie Canton was struck by a hit-and-run driver in Bushwick. Although she collected evidence leading to a suspect, the detective assigned to the case refused to act on it.

Despite these limitations, council members said today that high civil fines will act as a disincentive to drivers considering leaving the scene of a crash. “We had to do something. There were too many vigils, too many rallies,” said Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, the bill’s sponsor. “Establishing a $10,000 penalty will, I believe, serve as a deterrent where right now there is none.”

Today, Rodriguez and Van Bramer cited hit-and-run fatalities where these penalties would have applied. Martha Puruncajas, whose son Luis Bravo was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Van Bramer’s district last year, joined the council member and other advocates from Make Queens Safer on the floor of the City Council this afternoon to receive a proclamation honoring their work.

“This bill that we are passing today is a result of your efforts,” Van Bramer said. “These activists remind us every single day that there’s more to be done.”

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Proposed Hit-and-Run Fines Doubled, But Law Could Hinge on Drivers’ Word

Ahead of a scheduled Tuesday vote by the full City Council, transportation committee members voted today to increase proposed civil penalties for hit-and-run drivers. However, the bill in question still contains language that could make it difficult to apply the new fines.

Intro 371 originally called for fines ranging from $500 to $5,000 for hit-and-run crashes where a driver “knows or has cause to know” an injury has occurred, with fines at the higher end of the scale applied in cases of serious injury and death. After a hearing held earlier this month, Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer and Ydanis Rodriguez, the bill’s primary sponsors, doubled the maximum fine to $10,000, and assigned a minimum fine of $5,000 for fatal crashes.

Committee members passed the bill with a 9-0 vote. “It can, and I believe will, serve as a deterrent to those who would do the same thing to others,” Van Bramer said today, citing three hit-and-run fatalities in that have happened in his district in the last 18 months.

“At the same time, we need our colleagues in Albany to act to make all of us safer,” said Rodriguez, referring to state laws that give drivers who may be impaired by alcohol or drugs an incentive to flee the scene, since the penalty for hit-and-run is less severe than causing death or injury while intoxicated.

While Albany fails to act, by attaching civil penalties at the local level, council members are using what tools are available to them. But as we reported after the initial hearing, the “knows or has cause to know” provision may make the law, if passed, not nearly as effective as it could be. To avoid criminal charges, often all a hit-and-run driver has to do is claim he “didn’t see” the victim, presumably in part because trial outcomes are notoriously unpredictable, even in cases where prosecutors have video evidence.

A new city law that makes it a misdemeanor for a driver to strike a pedestrian or cyclist who has the right of way employs strict liability, a legal standard based on driver actions, rather than driver intent. Streetsblog asked Van Bramer’s office how the “knew or had reason to know” condition would be satisfied under the bill, and if strict liability-type language was considered instead, but we didn’t get an answer.

Another issue is whether application of the law would depend on NYPD investigations. Of 60 fatal hit-and-runs investigated in 2012, NYPD arrested just 15 drivers, according to Transportation Alternatives. After a hit-and-run driver seriously injured cyclist Dulcie Canton in Bushwick, the victim herself collected evidence pointing to a driver who lives near the crash site, but the detective assigned to the case said he didn’t have time to follow up with the car’s owner.

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With Albany AWOL, Council Bill Proposes Fines Against Hit-and-Run Drivers

With perpetrators having little to fear from police and prosecutors, a new City Council bill aims to deter drivers from fleeing crash scenes by attaching civil penalties to hit-and-run.

Proposed by Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez, Intro 371 would levy fines of $250 to $5,000 against drivers who leave the scene of a crash, with fines ranging from $500 to $5,000 in cases where a driver “knows or has cause to know” an injury has occurred. Fines at the higher end of the scale would be applied to drivers who inflict serious injuries and deaths.

At a transportation committee hearing today, Van Bramer and Rodriguez stressed that the proposed fines are not intended to place a value on lives, but to deter drivers from leaving crash victims to die. Van Bramer noted that hit-and-run drivers have killed three pedestrians in his district alone in the last 18 months.

Motorists have “a moral responsibility to stop and not flee, to see if those people who were just struck can be saved,” Van Bramer said.

Under New York State law, drivers who may be impaired by alcohol or drugs have an incentive to leave the scene, since the penalty for hit-and-run is less severe than causing death or injury while intoxicated. State legislators have repeatedly failed to fix the law. ”We must act where Albany has not,” said Van Bramer.

Transportation Alternatives offered recommendations for bill amendments. TA’s Noah Budnick testified that higher fines would be a stronger deterrent, and said fines should be increased for drivers who hit pedestrians or cyclists, who account for the majority of hit-and-run victims. Repeat offenders and drunk and unlicensed drivers should also be subject to more severe penalties, Budnick said.

Rodriguez said the proposed fines may be increased.

Another issue, not discussed during the hearing, is the ”knows or has cause to know” provision. Many New York City hit-and-run drivers are not charged criminally because prosecutors must prove the driver “knew or had reason to know” a collision occurred. This is a surprisingly high burden, and many times DAs don’t pursue cases if a driver claims he or she “didn’t see” the victim.

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Rodriguez Bill Would Use Taxi TV to Help NYPD Close Hit-and-Run Cases

A bill introduced today by City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez [PDF] would require all street hail taxis to display notifications from NYPD about wanted hit-and-run drivers using in-vehicle screens like Taxi TV. If utilized by NYPD, the hope is the technology will help improve the department’s low closure rate for hit-and-run cases.

Taxi TV could help police track down hit-and-run drivers. Photo: nlaspf/Flickr

Taxi TV could help police track down hit-and-run drivers. Photo: nlaspf/Flickr

“Too often hit-and-run drivers escape the scene and avoid punishment for their crimes. I hope that this bill will be effective in holding hit-and-run drivers accountable,” Rodriguez said. “I want to bolster the NYPD’s efforts in locating these drivers so that no one escapes responsibility for their heinous actions.”

The bill, first reported by Capital New York, comes at a time when efforts in other states to broadcast hit-and-run information using AMBER Alert-like systems are gaining steam. The system in Colorado, named the Medina Alert in memory of a hit-and-run victim, sends television, radio, text message, and billboard announcements when police are searching for a hit-and-run driver who has caused death or serious injury. Announcements are sent to police cruisers, taxi drivers, media, truck drivers, and pedicab operators. After an initial implementation in Denver and Aurora, the state passed a law expanding the Medina Alert system statewide earlier this year.

In Oregon, a woman whose son was killed by a drunk hit-and-run driver is hoping that state’s lawmakers will follow suit. California appears poised to pass legislation for a hit-and-run alert system; a bill there has cleared both the Assembly and a Senate committee.

These types of systems are not yet available here. New York State Police told Streetsblog that troopers issue statements to the force’s website, send out social media alerts, and call media outlets directly when requesting the public’s assistance in searching for hit-and-run drivers. NYPD has not replied to a request for comment about its hit-and-run notification protocol.

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Bronx Hit-and-Run Driver Who Killed Abigail Lino Gets Six Months in Jail

A hit-and-run driver who killed a woman in the Bronx in 2013 will serve six months in jail.

Harlem resident Abigail Lino, 24, was crossing Bruckner Avenue near a Longwood club at around 3 a.m. last August 31 when Leroy Forest hit her with “a speeding silver SUV,” according to the Daily News:

Abigail Lino. Photo via DNAinfo

Witnesses said Lino’s body was thrown in the air by the callous driver before she came to rest in the center of the street. The driver sped off into the early morning darkness, police said.

“It’s hard to think about … we had just been inside having a good time. It’s really hard to believe,” said Ayalla Ingram, 24, who was walking with Lino moments before the accident.

“The car didn’t even slow down,” Taylor added. “It actually looked like it sped up (after it hit her).”

Lino worked for UPS and was a caregiver for her then-20-year-old sister, who has Down syndrome. She was also raising the young child of an ex, reports said.

Forest, of the Bronx, was arrested the day after the crash. According to court records, Forest pled guilty in May to leaving the scene of an accident resulting in injury, a class D felony punishable by up to seven years in jail, and which also allows for no jail time, or probation.

Leaving the scene was the top charge against Forest. Last week he was sentenced to six months in jail and five years probation. It is not known how the sentence will affect his driving privileges.

New York State law gives some drivers an incentive to leave the scene of a serious crash. The penalty for hit-and-run is less severe than the penalty for drunk driving, and cases hinge on the courts’ ability to divine driver intent, which makes “I didn’t see her” a viable defense. Reforming the laws is one of the goals of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan, but Albany lawmakers have for years failed to pass legislation that would toughen hit-and-run penalties.

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Council Bill Would Fine Drivers for Leaving the Scene of a Crash

Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer and Ydanis Rodriguez have introduced a bill that would impose civil penalties for hit-and-run crashes.

Intro 371 would attach escalating fines, based on injury severity, for violating Section 600 of the state traffic code, which deals with leaving the scene. Fines would begin at “not more than” $250 for drivers who leave the scene of a crash, $500 to $1,000 for a crash resulting in physical injury, $1,000 to $5,000 for a serious injury crash, and $2,000 to $5,000 for a fatal crash.

The bill refers to Article 10 of the state penal law for definitions of injury — “impairment of physical condition or substantial pain” — and serious injury — “injury which creates a substantial risk of death, or which causes death or serious and protracted disfigurement, protracted impairment of health or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ.”

Unlike Intro 238, a bill passed by the council last week that applies a strict liability standard to cases where motorists strike pedestrians or cyclists who have the right of way, Intro 371 would apply only when a driver ”knows or has cause to know that physical injury has occurred.” This burden of proof gives rise to the “I didn’t see her” defense, often employed by hit-and-run drivers who avoid prosecution, even in cases where the victim dies.

Current state law gives drivers who have been drinking an incentive to flee the scene, as the criminal penalty for hit-and-run can be less severe than for causing injury while driving drunk. Albany has repeatedly failed to pass legislation that would toughen criminal penalties for leaving the scene.

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Unlicensed Driver Who Killed Brooklyn Senior Convicted of Leaving Scene

A jury has convicted a motorist who, while driving without a license, fatally struck a Brooklyn senior and left the scene.

Isabel Rodriguez. Photo via Daily News

Wayne Stokeling was convicted of leaving the scene of the crash that killed Isabel Rodriguez (pictured). Photo via Daily News

Isabel Rodriguez, 88, was walking with her 79-year-old sister on July 22, 2012, when Wayne Stokeling drove into her at Stone and Livonia Avenues in Brownsville, according to reports. Police tracked down his damaged BMW sedan a few blocks away.

Stokeling, then 50, “had an open warrant on a prior motor vehicle-related charge and four prior arrests,” the Daily News reported.

Stokeling claimed he was eating ice cream while driving and didn’t notice he’d run someone over. Unlike in many cases, however, the “I didn’t see her” defense didn’t work. Former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes brought several charges against Stokeling, but he was not charged with homicide for killing Isabel Rodriguez. According to court records, on May 23 Stokeling was found guilty at trial of leaving the scene and driving with a suspended license.

It’s unclear what penalties will come with this conviction. Court records say the top charge against Stokeling — for which he was found guilty — was a violation of VTL § 600.2(a), for leaving the scene of a crash involving injury. This is the same charge that resulted in a 16 day jail sentence for the hit-and-run driver who killed pedestrian Florence Cioffi in Manhattan in 2008.

Stokeling’s next court appearance is scheduled for July.

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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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