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Posts from the "NYPD Crash Investigations" Category

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De Blasio Wants Albany to Make Careless Driving a Crime [Updated]

NYPD currently issues careless driving summonses to fewer than 1 percent of motorists who injure and kill pedestrians and cyclists. Graphic by Carly Clark. Citation data via Transportation Alternatives.

As part of his Vision Zero agenda, Mayor Bill de Blasio wants Albany to elevate careless driving to a criminal offense, increasing penalties while making it easier for police to hold reckless motorists accountable.

Enacted in 2010, Hayley and Diego’s Law was intended as a default infraction for crashes that injure pedestrians and cyclists. But under Ray Kelly, NYPD normally applied the law only in cases of very serious injury or death, seemingly in place of criminal charges. Department protocol prohibits precinct cops from issuing careless driving citations unless an officer witnesses a violation or the crash is investigated by the Collision Investigation Squad. As a result, fewer than 1 percent of New York City drivers who injure and kill pedestrians and cyclists are cited for careless driving.

Department brass told the City Council two years ago that the current policy came after summonses were dismissed in court because officers weren’t witnessing violations, though NYPD didn’t say how many cases were thrown out. State lawmakers have so far failed to pass an amendment that would allow beat cops to write careless driving summonses, and de Blasio wants to take a somewhat different approach.

From the Vision Zero blueprint, released Tuesday:

The City supports amendments to the Hayley and Diego law to make this violation a misdemeanor, increasing the penalties associated with carelessly harming a pedestrian or bicyclist. By making this a crime rather than a traffic infraction, the law would explicitly allow a police officer to issue a summons to a person who failed to exercise due care and seriously injured or killed a pedestrian or bicyclist, based on probable cause, even if the officer was not present to witness the crash.

The city also wants to extend vulnerable user status to highway workers.

Right now, drivers summonsed for careless driving are subject to a mandatory drivers’ ed course, fines of up to $750, jail time of up to 15 days, and a license suspension of up to six months. A de Blasio spokesperson told Streetsblog it’s not clear yet what class of misdemeanor the city will aim for, but the lowest level, an unclassified misdemeanor, would put careless driving on par with third degree aggravated unlicensed operation and first-offense DWI.

Perhaps more important, classifying careless driving as a crime would theoretically lift the NYPD’s self-imposed ban on enforcing the law.

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80-Year-Old Pedestrian and MTA Bus Driver Killed in Separate Crashes

Senior Margarita Seda was killed in the middle of the day by a driver making a left turn at at a signalized intersection with marked crosswalks. He was cited for careless driving and failure to yield. Image: Google Maps

Senior Margarita Seda was killed in the middle of the day by a driver making a left turn at a signalized intersection with marked crosswalks. The driver was cited for careless driving and failure to yield. The red arrow represents the movement of the driver and the white arrow the movement of the victim, according to reports. Image: Google Maps

In the last 24 hours, an 80-year-old pedestrian and an MTA bus driver were killed in crashes in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

At around 1:35 p.m. Tuesday, Margarita Seda was struck by the driver of a GMC vehicle as she crossed Grand Street at Graham Avenue in Williamsburg, according to WCBS and the Daily News. WCBS reported that Seda was crossing Grand north to south when the driver, traveling north on Graham, struck her while making a left turn onto Grand. Seda suffered head injuries and died at Bellevue Hospital.

The unnamed motorist was summonsed for careless driving and failure to yield to a pedestrian.

Grand Street and Graham Avenue are two-lane streets that meet at a signalized intersection, and there is strong evidence that the victim was in the crosswalk and had a walk signal, based on published reports and the fact that NYPD cited the driver. If it occurred as described, yesterday’s crash appears nearly identical to the one that killed Maude Savage, the 72-year-old who was hit by an unlicensed driver last November while crossing with the signal at Sutter and Euclid Avenues in East New York. The man who killed Savage was charged criminally, but only because he was driving without a license.

This type of crash is not rare. At least 30 NYC pedestrians and cyclists have been killed by turning motorists since January 2013, and for the most part the drivers were breaking the law by failing to yield. As we wrote after Savage’s death, that this deadly behavior does not apparently meet the standard of criminal negligence is a sign that New York’s criminal justice system is failing to hold drivers accountable for killing law-abiding pedestrians.

The crash that killed Margarita Seda occurred in the City Council district represented by Antonio Reynoso, and in the 90th Precinct, where in 2013 local officers cited 35 drivers for failing to yield to pedestrians, and wrote 311 speeding tickets.

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How NYPD’s Opaque Crash Investigations Spoil Its Street Safety Message

Last month, the Upper East Side’s 19th Precinct devoted two full pages to traffic safety in its inaugural monthly newsletter. In an echo of Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who claimed at the initial Vision Zero press conference that 73 percent of crashes injuring pedestrians are the victim’s fault, it featured an eyebrow-raising statistic that blames four of the five Upper East Side pedestrian fatalities in 2013 on the dead victims. But that’s a misleading way to characterize the cause of most pedestrian deaths, and given NYPD’s track record of rushing to blame victims in its crash investigations, it may not even be an accurate depiction of these five Upper East Side deaths.

Renee Thompson and Kenneth McMilleon were two of five pedestrians killed on the Upper East Side last year. Neither . Top: Post Bottom: Daily News

Renee Thompson and Kenneth McMilleon were two of five pedestrians killed on the Upper East Side last year. Top: NY Post; Bottom: Daily News

In a section written by Capt. Oliver Pufolkes [PDF], the precinct’s January newsletter (brought to our attention by a commenter, emphasis added) reads:

Using our data-driven performance management system (Traffic Stat) there are lessons we have gleaned from looking at data for the past calendar year (2013). Last year 59% of pedestrians that were involved in traffic collisions were 61 years of age or older, and 59% of the contributing factor was either driver inattention or drivers’ failure to yield right of way to pedestrians — typically during a turn. Pedestrian error accounted for 10% of those collisions. A thorough investigation by our Department’s Highway Collision Scene Unit revealed that 80% of the pedestrian fatalities (4 out of 5) that occurred last year were due to pedestrian error.

The precinct clarified that each statistic the piece references covers only the pedestrian crashes and fatalities in the precinct, which lies east of Central Park between 59th and 96th Streets.

There’s something curious about these statistics: 10 percent of all Upper East Side pedestrian collisions were caused by pedestrian error, but in the five cases where the victim died, “pedestrian error” jumped to 80 percent. While this is a small sample, it seems that Upper East Side pedestrians who did not survive collisions and could not tell their side of the story were far more likely to be blamed for causing the crash than pedestrians who survived.

The precinct’s stats echo a claim Bratton made last month at Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero announcement. Speaking about pedestrian crashes citywide, the police commissioner said that “pedestrian error contributed to 73 percent of collisions, and 66 percent are directly related to the actions of pedestrians.” NYPD never offered an explanation for this claim, but the 19th Precinct did cite a source for its numbers: the “Highway Collision Scene Unit.” Presumably this is a reference to the Collision Investigation Squad, the unit within NYPD’s Highway Division responsible for investigations of traffic fatalities and critical injuries.

In most cases, CIS investigations involve victims who don’t live to tell police their account. The motorists who do the killing, however, can tell their story, and CIS crash reports often rely heavily on what drivers and their passengers tell investigators. As Streetsblog’s Brad Aaron explained last month:

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Council Overrides Bloomberg Veto of NYPD Hit-and-Run Transparency Bill

The City Council today voted to override a number of vetoes handed down by former Mayor Bloomberg. According to the Staten Island Advance, among the bills passed was Intro 1055, which requires NYPD to release information on hit-and-run crashes and investigations.

The bill mandates that NYPD report quarterly on the total number of “critical injury” hit-and-run crashes, the number of crashes that resulted in arrest, and the number of crashes for which no arrest was made. It requires the department to provide the council with crash locations, and “a brief description of what steps were taken to investigate” each incident. Crash data, disaggregated by precinct, will be posted online.

The council originally passed the bill in December. In his veto message, Bloomberg said the bill was unworkably vague, and claimed that requiring NYPD to reveal hit-and-run data would compromise investigations while “draining scarce resources from actual police functions.”

Intro 1055 was co-authored by former Council Member Leroy Comrie, along with Peter Koo and Rosie Mendez. Koo told Streetsblog in January that he would work to override the veto. The transportation committee, led by new chairman Ydanis Rodriguez, voted unanimously to override last week.

NYPD is required to begin compliance with the law in July 2015.

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First Up for Ydanis Rodriguez: Override of NYPD Hit-and-Run Data Veto

Ydanis Rodriguez at his first transportation committee meeting as chair earlier today. Photo: Stephen Miller

Ydanis Rodriguez at his first transportation committee meeting as chair earlier today. Photo: Stephen Miller

Today’s transportation committee meeting, the first chaired by Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, was short and sweet. The new chair opened with a statement outlining his goals for the 13-member committee, which minutes later unanimously passed an override of Mayor Bloomberg’s veto of a bill that would give the council more information about NYPD’s hit-and-run investigations.

The bill, Intro 1055, would require NYPD to issue quarterly online reports detailing, by precinct and intersection, the number of “critical injury” hit-and-run crashes, how many of the department’s hit-and-run investigations have resulted in arrest, and how many have not had an arrest. The bill also requires NYPD to tell the council what steps it is taking to investigate individual hit-and-run crashes.

Of approximately 300 investigations launched by NYPD in 2012, around 60 involved hit-and-run drivers. Only 15 of those cases resulted in arrest.

The bill, introduced by former Council Member Leroy Comrie, is expected to pass the full council at its next meeting on February 4. Today, council members recounted stories of families who have lost loved ones to hit-and-run crashes.

Dante Dominguez, a 45-year-old father of three, was killed in November 2012 by a hit-and-run driver in Flushing. Sarah Dominguez, Dante’s mother, works on the janitorial staff in the City Council’s offices. “One night I was working late, and she was cleaning,” Council Member Rosie Mendez said. She noticed that Dominguez had been crying, so Mendez asked her what was wrong. ”It’s been 14 months. They have no leads on who killed her son,” Mendez told Streetsblog after the meeting, adding that the family has reported difficulty getting information from the district attorney and police.

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Bratton’s Bad Data on Pedestrian Injuries Won’t Get Us to Vision Zero

Yesterday NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said that in 73 percent of crashes in which a pedestrian was struck by a motorist in 2013, the pedestrian was at fault. Bratton presented that figure as an indictment of pedestrian behavior, and the stat was later parroted by the press. But more than anything it speaks to the victim-blaming bias that permeates NYPD traffic enforcement and crash investigations — a major obstacle Bratton will have to overcome to implement Vision Zero.

Commissioner Bratton and Mayor de Blasio at yesterday's Vision Zero event. Image: Clarence Eckerson

Commissioner Bratton and Mayor de Blasio at yesterday’s Vision Zero event. Image: Clarence Eckerson

Here’s what Bratton said at Wednesday’s Vision Zero press conference:

“Last year, pedestrian error — and I point this out — pedestrian error contributed to 73 percent of collisions, and 66 percent are directly related to the actions of pedestrians. So while a lot of our focus is on drivers and speed, we also need to work more comprehensively on pedestrian education.”

These numbers came from out of nowhere, and it’s impossible to say what Bratton based them on.

But let’s start with the data we have at our disposal. A tally of NYPD’s monthly crash reports shows there were 14,845 pedestrian and cyclist injuries and deaths from January through November of last year (citywide crash numbers for December have not yet been released). For those 11 months, pedestrian and cyclist “error/confusion” was coded as a contributing factor in fatal and injury crashes involving 1,092 vehicles. That means only about 7 or 8 percent of pedestrian and cyclist injuries were coded as being the fault of the victim.

Other research has also shown that “pedestrian error” is not the risk factor that Bratton made it out to be. NYC DOT’s landmark 2010 pedestrian safety study, based on records of 7,000 crashes involving pedestrians, found that motorist behavior was the main factor in 78.5 percent of serious pedestrian injuries and fatalities. A 2012 report from Transportation Alternatives found that 60 percent of fatal New York City pedestrian and cyclist crashes with known causes between 1995 and 2009 were the result of motorists breaking traffic laws, according to data from the state Department of Transportation. And NYC DOT data from 2011 revealed that half of pedestrians killed in city crosswalks were crossing with the signal.

So the 73 percent figure doesn’t match up with any known dataset or the robust recent research into the causes of serious pedestrian injuries. Yet Bratton’s quote was aired and repeated by several media outlets, including the New York TimesWABC, and WNYC.

We don’t know where Bratton got his numbers, but we’ve asked NYPD. What we know is that the NYPD unit that creates the reports upon which most crash data is based — the Highway Division — has a record of jumping to conclusions that aren’t supported by the evidence.

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9-Year-Old Boy, Mother, and Senior Killed in Weekend of Motorist Violence

Three pedestrians were fatally struck by motorists over the weekend, bringing to seven the number of people killed while walking in New York City in the first two weeks of 2014.

Twenty pedestrians were killed by city motorists in January 2013, according to NYPD data, and 12 pedestrians and one cyclist died in January 2012.

Cooper Stock. Photo via DNAinfo

Cooper Stock. Photo via DNAinfo

Nine-year-old Cooper Stock was in a crosswalk with his father at West End Avenue and 97th Street  at around 9 p.m. Friday when both were hit by cab driver Koffi Komlani, according to reports. A motorist in a car behind Komlani spoke with the Daily News:

“He had to be distracted because there’s no way he could not see them, if I did,” [Ramon] Gonzalez, 46, said of the 53-year-old cabbie.

“The father grabbed his son. They were both on the hood of the car for a second. The father fell off the passenger side. The son went underneath the driver’s-side tire, first the front one, then the rear.”

Komlani, of West Harriman, didn’t brake until after he’d run over the boy with both wheels, according to Gonzalez, the assistant director of an educational nonprofit who lives in Chelsea.

Richard Stock suffered a leg injury. Cooper died at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital.

Cooper Stock was at least the twelfth child age 14 and under killed by a New York City motorist in the last 12 months, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog. Year after year, traffic crashes remain the leading cause of injury-related death for children in NYC.

From DNAinfo:

The family released a statement about Cooper late Saturday, saying he loved the Yankees, rock and roll, and the Knicks. “Cooper was the life of the party even when there wasn’t a party,” the statement said. “He was light, he was reflective, he was beauty in motion, he was charismatic. He has been described as an old soul, and wise beyond his years.”

Komlani was ticketed for failure to yield on Friday. ”As of now, there are no disciplinary actions available to the TLC,” said Allan Fromberg, spokesperson for the Taxi and Limousine Commission, in an email. ”We’re awaiting the outcome of the NYPD investigation to make a determination of what options are available.”

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Koo Will Try Override After Bloomberg Vetoes NYPD Hit-and-Run Bill

As one of his last acts in office, Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed a bill that would have required NYPD to report to the City Council and the public on hit-and-run crashes. With lead sponsor Leroy Comrie also gone from City Hall, Council Member Peter Koo plans to marshal an effort to override the veto.

Intro 1055, passed by the council in December, would mandate that NYPD report quarterly on the total number of “critical injury” hit-and-run crashes, the number of crashes that resulted in arrest, and the number of crashes for which no arrest was made. The bill would require the department to provide the council with crash locations, and “a brief description of what steps were taken to investigate” each incident. Crash data, disaggregated by precinct, would be posted online.

The hit-and-run bill was born of frustration and grief caused by NYPD’s indifference toward crash victims and their loved ones — investigations that did not start for weeks after a fatal crash and, predictably, yielded no evidence; families left in the dark on what police were doing to bring a relative’s killer to justice. According to Transportation Alternatives, of 60 fatal hit-and-runs investigated in 2012, NYPD arrested just 15 drivers.

For all his DOT did to make streets safer for walking and biking, Bloomberg let NYPD’s deterrence of traffic violence stagnate under commissioner Ray Kelly. Bloomberg’s veto message [PDF], probably drafted with significant input from NYPD, called the language of the bill unworkably vague, and claimed that requiring NYPD to reveal hit-and-run data would compromise investigations while ”draining scarce resources from actual police functions.”

Intro 1055 was co-authored by Comrie, Koo, and Rosie Mendez. With Comrie termed out, Koo’s office says he has not given up on the bill. “Councilman Peter Koo will take the lead and work with the new speaker to override the mayor’s veto,” said Koo spokesperson Ian Chan. “He intends to enact this very important piece of legislation.”

Said TA general counsel Juan Martinez, in an emailed statement: “The NYPD must make the arrest of hit-and-run drivers a top priority, because to do otherwise gives criminal drivers permission to remain on the road, which puts us all at risk, and prolongs families’ pain. New York is better than that. We will be calling on the council’s next transportation and public safety chairs to work with the NYPD and determine whether the department is giving victims’ families and all New Yorkers the justice they deserve.”

Asked whether Koo would re-introduce the bill if an override fails, Chan said the council member is focused on seeing the bid through. “Working with the speaker, of course.”

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Hit-and-Run Driver Not Charged in Death of Queens Pedestrian Mosa Khatun

A hit-and-run driver who fatally struck a woman in Jamaica last night will not be charged with a crime, according to NYPD.

Police say the driver who killed Mosa Khatun returned after leaving the scene, but did not know she had hit someone. No charges were filed. Photo: Daily News

NYPD says the driver who killed Mosa Khatun returned after leaving the scene, but did not know she had hit someone. No charges were filed. Photo: Daily News

Mosa Khatun, 38, was struck by the driver of a Nissan SUV at the corner of Highland Avenue and 169th Street at around 10:20 p.m., according to NYPD and the Daily News:

Emergency responders rushed to the scene and found the woman on the pavement with traumatic injuries to her body, officials said.

She was taken to Queens General Hospital in critical condition, but died there a short time later, officials said.

The News reported that the driver left the scene and “returned about an hour later to talk with police.” An NYPD spokesperson confirmed this account, and said the motorist, whose name is being withheld by the department, ”Wasn’t aware she’d hit someone.”

It is not clear why the driver returned to the crash site if she did not know a crash occurred. Nevertheless, while NYPD issued summonses for careless driving and failure to yield to a pedestrian, police filed no charges for leaving the scene. As of this morning, approximately 12 hours after Mosa Khatun was killed, NYPD had concluded its investigation.

Leaving the scene of an injury crash is a class D felony in New York State, punishable by up to seven years in jail. Yet drivers in New York City routinely escape penalty simply by claiming they “didn’t see” their deceased victims. As in this case, rather than allowing the justice system to determine innocence or guilt, police and prosecutors often decline to pursue charges.

According to Transportation Alternatives, of some 300 investigations conducted by the NYPD Collision Investigation Squad in 2012, around 60 involved hit-and-run drivers, and just 15 of those investigations resulted in arrest. In December the City Council passed legislation requiring NYPD to post quarterly reports on hit-and-run crashes that result in “critical” injury.

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Council Transpo Committee Passes NYPD Hit-and-Run Transparency Bill

The City Council transportation committee passed a bill today that would require NYPD to issue quarterly reports on hit-and-run crashes and investigations.

Originally, Intro 1055 would have had NYPD report to the council every two years on hit-and-runs resulting in serious injury or death. The language of the bill was tightened after sponsor Leroy Comrie and other committee members heard testimony from transportation experts and family members of victims earlier this month.

In its current iteration, the bill would mandate that the department report in writing every three months on the total number of “critical injury” hit-and-run crashes, the number of crashes that resulted in arrest, and the number of crashes for which no arrest was made. ”Additionally,” the bill reads, “the department shall provide to the speaker of the council in writing a brief description of what steps were taken to investigate each such incident, noting the cross streets of the incident.”

The bill defines critical injury as “any injury determined to be critical by the emergency medical service personnel responding to any such incident.”

The bill passed with an unanimous 11-0 vote, with no abstentions. It is expected to be voted on by the full council tomorrow, at the last stated meeting of the year. The law would not take effect until July of 2015.

NYPD did not show up for the December 4 hearing. Streetsblog has a message in with the public information office asking if the department has a position on the bill.

Said bill co-sponsor Peter Koo: “Today’s piece of legislation will increase transparency and accountability, ensuring NYPD is using all the tools at its disposal to investigate hit-and-run accidents.”

“This is not the first time the council has heard testimony from families of individuals who feel they have not received enough information,” said James Vacca, who was chairing his last transportation committee meeting of the current term.

Of his chairmanship, Vacca said, ”This has been a wonderful experience. Transportation affects everyone.”

It is not known if Vacca will continue to occupy the transportation post or move to a different committee chairmanship. ”I want to continue doing something here,” he said, “and we’ll see what that is.”