Skip to content

Posts from the "NYPD Crash Investigations" Category

11 Comments

Vaccaro: NYPD Coerces Injured Hit-and-Run Victims to Not Pursue Charges

The City Council transportation committee met today to gather testimony on NYPD hit-and-run crash investigations, but NYPD didn’t send anyone to the hearing. The committee also took up a bill that would codify updates to DOT’s innovative Street Design Manual.

Family members of hit-and-run victim Dante Dominguez, with Council Members Rosie Mendez and Leroy Comrie. Photo: ##http://www.qchron.com/editions/queenswide/flushing-hit-and-run-inspires-council-bill/article_232113e3-a3d4-5ca0-97dd-f26b871953ca.html##Queens Chronicle##

Family members of hit-and-run victim Dante Dominguez, with City Council Members Rosie Mendez and Leroy Comrie. The driver who killed Dominguez was not caught. His brother says NYPD did not start its investigation until a week after the crash. Photo: Queens Chronicle

Intro 1055 would require NYPD to report to the council every two years on hit-and-run crashes that result in serious injury or death, including the number of crashes per precinct, and to provide “a brief description of what steps were taken to investigate each such incident.” Bill sponsor Leroy Comrie said today that hit-and-run fatalities have increased by 31 percent since 2010, with 47 deaths in 2012.

“The families want to know if NYPD has thoroughly pursued all avenues of evidence in actively finding the perpetrators that claimed their loved ones,” said Comrie. “They deserve to know the status of their investigation and what they can realistically expect to happen. And the public needs to know that these crimes are not simply swept under the rug, but actively pursued.”

Comrie also wants NYPD to collect video evidence within a five block radius of hit-and-run crashes, though this would take the form of a resolution, rather than a law, since the council believes it can not force the department to change the way it handles crash investigations.

During testimony, Juan Martinez, general counsel for Transportation Alternatives, said hit-and-run collisions are “perhaps the most callous criminal act that a driver can commit.” Of some 300 investigations by the Collision Investigation Squad in 2012, Martinez said, around 60 involved hit-and-run drivers. Of those, only 15 resulted in an arrest.

Martinez said more oversight would lead to better enforcement. “Government can’t manage what it can’t measure,” he said.

Attorney Steve Vaccaro joined Martinez in suggesting changes to the hit-and-run bill. Martinez recommended crash data be shared with the public as well as the council, and Vaccaro said reports should come once or twice a year, instead of every other year. Said Vaccaro: ”I think this data is going to show there’s a big problem here.”

Vaccaro testified that, based on his firm’s experience with clients and other crash victims who seek guidance over the phone, New York City police officers often refuse to take a report on a hit-and-run unless an injured victim agrees to be transported to a hospital by ambulance. This can be a deterrent for victims who have no health insurance, or who are not aware of coverage available to them through the Motor Vehicle Accident Indemnification Corporation, which offers compensation for crashes caused by uninsured drivers. Many times, Vaccaro said, victims are traumatized to the extent that they don’t realize they need medical care until hours after a crash.

Shockingly, in some instances Vaccaro said NYPD officers threaten not to include a perpetrator’s license plate number in a report, if it is known to police, unless an injured victim agrees to not pursue a criminal case. “Hit-and-run is a criminal offense that needs to be treated as one,” said Vaccaro. “Someone should not be forced to choose between insurance and compensation for their injuries and seeing the driver who injured them and then drove off from the scene brought to justice.”

Read more…

28 Comments

Public Still Doesn’t Know Why Cy Vance Failed to Charge in Sian Green Case

Last Friday WNYC ran a piece in which Bronx vehicular crimes chief Joe McCormack explained why he thought Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance failed to file charges against the cab driver who drove onto a Midtown sidewalk and severed the leg of tourist Sian Green. The story offers valuable insight into the mindset of prosecutors, but key questions about the case remain unanswered.

The public still does not know how Cy Vance decided that the driver of this cab, who hit two people and severed a woman's leg, should not be charged. Photo: @BraddJaffy

The public still does not know how Cy Vance decided that the driver of this cab, who hit two people and severed a woman’s leg, should not be charged. Photo: @BraddJaffy

McCormack said that in order to charge Faysal Himon with a crime, the Vance team would have to prove intent. ”What we look at in the criminal arena is when the mistake is greater than ordinary negligence and rises to criminal negligence,” McCormack said. “And what a defendant can be charged with depends on case law.”

Reporter Kate Hinds also points to the “rule of two,” an arbitrary standard that holds that a New York State motorist who is breaking at least two traffic laws at the time of a crash may be charged with criminal negligence, as a possible factor in the decision not to charge Himon.

Civil attorney Steve Vaccaro believes Vance might have gotten a conviction on misdemeanor charges — third degree assault and second degree reckless endangerment — that don’t require prosecutors to prove intent. As for case law and the “rule of two,” recent decisions by the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, have made it harder for prosecutors to secure ironclad convictions against motorists who injure and kill. But does that mean reckless drivers can’t be held accountable for maiming and killing innocent bystanders?

One Court of Appeals case in particular looms large: People v. Cabrera, which held that reckless driving had to be “morally blameworthy” to sustain a homicide conviction. Maureen McCormick, head vehicular crimes prosecutor in Nassau County, explained the Cabrera ruling to Streetsblog in 2009:

[A]s recently as May 2008, New York’s highest court held that a 17-year-old driver who violated his junior license by driving with four unrelated passengers, without seatbelts, and who also was speeding at 70-72 mph through a curve with a posted caution speed of 40 mph, and who lost control sending the car over an embankment and killing three of his passengers, could not be held criminally liable. This decision alone has resulted in numerous defense motions to have cases dismissed claiming that “speed alone” or any traffic infraction “alone” is not sufficient to sustain criminal negligence.

McCormick continued: “Our position is that this is nonsense. A person driving 100 mph in front of the court on Centre Street in Manhattan at lunch time when the streets are flooded with pedestrians MUST be chargeable with a crime.”

Court precedents do have a chilling effect, but as McCormick indicates, the “rule of two” is a defense strategy. It’s up to prosecutors and police to decide whether they want to cede the argument by never filing charges in the first place.

Read more…

1 Comment

NYPD Issues Careless Driving Summons for Death of Bronx Senior

A 66-year-old woman struck by a driver last week in Hunts Point was at least the 29th senior killed by a New York City motorist in 2013, and the third person killed by a driver in the City Council district represented by Maria del Carmen Arroyo in five weeks.

Maria Montalvo. Photo via News 12

Maria Montalvo. Photo via News 12

Reports said Maria Montalvo was in a crosswalk at Hunts Point Avenue and Lafayette Avenue last Friday at around 10:40 a.m. when the driver of a Nissan pickup truck struck her while making a left turn.

From DNAinfo:

Moments after the crash, Montalvo’s husband and adult daughter rushed to her side from their nearby apartment building. O’Neill, who has known the family for 35 years, declined to give their names.

“He went to his wife, looked down and lost it,” he said.

Montalvo’s daughter was equally emotional, screaming, “It’s my mother, what happened, who hit her?” according to O’Neill.

Montalvo died at Lincoln Hospital. News 12 reported that the 55-year-old male driver was issued summonses for failure to exercise due care and failure to yield to a pedestrian.

The crash happened in daylight hours, and Montalvo walked with a cane. So if this incident occurred as reported, it’s pretty clear that the victim died as a result of negligent behavior on the part of the driver. Still, it’s impossible to know exactly what factors led NYPD to issue summonses.

Careless driving was intended to be a default infraction for crashes that injure vulnerable street users. But in the hands of NYPD it is reserved for very serious injuries or fatalities, and is seemingly used in place of criminal charges. Historically, fewer than 1 percent of New York City drivers who injure and kill pedestrians and cyclists are cited for careless driving.

Reckless drivers have killed three people in Arroyo’s council district since the start of October. Witnesses said the motorist who hit 74-year-old Candida Acosta of Mott Haven on November 5 was speeding and ran a stop sign before jumping a curb and slamming into an apartment building. The driver was not charged or summonsed by NYPD. Nor was the school bus driver who ran over Genielle Laboriel on October 2, as the victim was riding a skateboard across E. 160th Street from a Melrose Avenue sidewalk.

Read more…

10 Comments

No Charges: Witnesses Say Driver Who Killed Bronx Senior Ran Stop Sign

A senior was killed in Mott Haven Tuesday by a motorist who witnesses said sped past a stop sign before striking the victim, jumping a curb and slamming into an apartment building. The driver was not charged or summonsed by NYPD.

Candida Acosta. Photo: DNAinfo

According to reports, Candida Acosta, 74, was crossing E. 141st Street at Beekman Avenue at around 11:05 a.m. when the driver of an Infiniti SUV struck her, then drove onto a sidewalk, knocked down a street sign, hit a building, and crashed into a stoop with sufficient force to trigger the vehicle’s airbags.

After the SUV stopped, a child exited the vehicle, bleeding from her mouth. The Daily News and News 12 said the 47-year-old driver and her 8-year-old daughter were hospitalized.

From DNAinfo:

Multiple witnesses, including the man who called 911, Ali Nagi, told DNAinfo New York that the SUV was going about 35 MPH and rolled a stop sign before hitting Acosta.

Witnesses also told WABC the driver ran a stop sign. One woman said more people could have been hurt. “If that building wouldn’t have stopped that car, all those people would have died plus people that are on that sidewalk,” said Mercedes Rivera, a friend of the victim.

Acosta suffered severe head and body trauma and died at Lincoln Hospital, reports said.

No charges were filed against the driver, and no summonses were issued. News 12 reported on Tuesday that, according to unnamed sources, “it’s possible the driver may receive a summons.” As of this morning the NYPD public information office had no updates. Streetsblog asked for the driver’s name, but a spokesperson said the department would not release that information unless the driver had been arrested.

Acosta was at least the second person killed by a motorist in the past month, and the fourth in 2013, in the City Council district represented by Maria del Carmen Arroyo, according to data compiled by Streetsblog. We talked with Arroyo’s spokesperson, who said the council member is out of town. The spokesperson said he would try to obtain the police report on the crash that killed Acosta, and pledged to follow up with Streetsblog next week.

Read more…

No Comments

No Charges Filed for Pedestrian Deaths in Jamaica and East New York

NYPD says the department doesn't know who had the right of way when Sheila Rivera was fatally struck by a driver on Pennsylvania Avenue at Glenmore Avenue in East New York. Image: Google Maps

Editor’s note: As we were finishing up this story, Gothamist reported that a 36-year-old cyclist was killed this morning in Claremont, and that another cyclist struck by a truck driver in Downtown Brooklyn earlier this month has died from his injuries. We will have more on these fatalities in a future post.

Two pedestrians were killed by motorists in Brooklyn and Queens Monday. No charges were filed by NYPD in either case, and as usual, other than a routine bit of victim-blaming, details on these deadly acts of vehicular violence are scarce.

At approximately 7:20 p.m., 50-year-old Sheila Rivera was hit by the driver of a Honda SUV as she crossed Pennsylvania Avenue at Glenmore Avenue in East New York, according to Gothamist and the Daily News. Gothamist reported that Rivera lived seven blocks from the scene. She died at Brookdale Hospital.

The driver was reportedly traveling north on Pennsylvania Avenue at the time of the crash. It is not known how fast the driver was going, or who had the right of way. The NYPD public information office had no specifics on how the crash occurred. No summonses were issued and no charges were filed.

Sheila Rivera was killed in the 75th Precinct, and in the City Council district represented by Erik Martin Dilan.

At approximately 7:50 p.m., a man reported to be in his 40s was struck by the driver of a Honda SUV on Jamaica Avenue near 180th Street. Police told Gothamist and the Daily News that the victim was crossing mid-block. He was pronounced dead at Jamaica Hospital. As of this morning his name had not been released by police. NYPD said no summonses were issued and no charges were filed.

This unidentified pedestrian victim was killed in the 103rd Precinct, and in the council district represented by Leroy Comrie.

Note that despite department policy that purportedly prohibits the release of information on traffic crashes, NYPD again offered details that point to the culpability of one of the dead victims, and nothing more. While police readily leak to the media that a pedestrian was struck by a motorist outside a crosswalk, driver speed is virtually never disclosed. If the pedestrian was struck while walking in a crosswalk, information on right of way is nearly impossible to extract.

A 2012 study by Transportation Alternatives found that 60 percent of fatal New York City pedestrian and cyclist crashes with known causes were the result of motorists breaking traffic laws. A 2010 DOT pedestrian safety report revealed that for serious crashes to which contributing factors were assigned, only 21.5 percent placed primary responsibility on “pedestrian error/confusion,” with the vast majority caused by driver inattention, failure to yield, and excessive speed.

Regardless of data showing that most pedestrians and cyclists struck by motorists were following traffic laws, those who read and watch daily coverage of NYC traffic crashes are left with the impression that most incidents are either blameless acts of nature or are precipitated by irresponsible behavior on the part of the injured or deceased victim.

12 Comments

NYPD Charges 0.7 Percent of Drivers Who Injure and Kill With Careless Driving

Graphic by Carly Clark. Citation data obtained by Transportation Alternatives.

Three years after Albany established the offense of careless driving, NYPD continues to apply the law in only a tiny fraction of crashes that result in the death or injury of pedestrians and cyclists.

There were 152 pedestrian and cyclist fatalities in the city in 2012, according to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, and 14,327 injuries. Of those 14,479 crashes, DMV data show NYPD cited 101 motorists for careless driving. That’s a citation rate of less than 1 percent.

It’s also the most careless driving citations issued by NYPD in a single year since Hayley and Diego’s Law took effect in 2010, when police wrote 99 summonses. In 2011, the first full year NYPD had the new law as part of its traffic enforcement toolkit, it was applied just 87 times.

The careless driving statute, part of Vehicle and Traffic Law section 1146, is named after Hayley Ng and Diego Martinez, toddlers who were killed in 2009 when a van, left unattended and idling, rolled onto a sidewalk in Chinatown. The driver was not charged by NYPD, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, or his successor Cy Vance.

Careless driving was intended as a minimum penalty to hold drivers who injure and kill accountable, in lieu of a more serious criminal charge. Under the law, drivers who injure pedestrians or cyclists while failing to exercise due care are subject to mandatory drivers’ ed, and could be sentenced to fines of up to $750, jail time of up to 15 days, and a license suspension of up to six months.

Graphic by Carly Clark. Citation data obtained by Transportation Alternatives.

Read more…

1 Comment

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.

36 Comments

NYPD and Media Declare “Accident” as Another Child Killed by NYC Motorist

For at least the seventh time in 2013 and the second time in 10 days, a New York City motorist has struck and killed a young child.

Allison Liao, 3, was crossing Main Street in Flushing with her grandmother at around 5:30 p.m. Sunday when she was hit by the driver of a Nissan SUV, who was turning left onto Main from Cherry Avenue, according to reports. A witness told WABC that the driver hit Liao with the vehicle, then ran the child over. Liao was declared dead at New York Hospital Queens.

As usual, media accounts favor superfluous details — multiple stories emphasize that the driver was upset — while omitting information that could help prevent future fatalities. No coverage that we have seen indicates who had the right of way, nor is there any mention that state law requires drivers to exercise due care to avoid hitting people. Instead, the public gets more victim-blaming, with a helping of motorist absolution, from the Daily News:

A 3-year-old was killed by an SUV on Sunday after she broke free from her grandmother while they were crossing the street in Queens, police said.

Alison died on her way to the hospital, cops said. The devastated driver of the SUV stayed at the scene and was crying, witnesses said.

As is routine when the driver is sober and does not leave the scene, NYPD and the media appear ready to exculpate the killer of wrongdoing. “As of 11 p.m. Sunday night, the driver had not been charged,” said WABC’s Lucy Yang. “Investigators currently believe this may have all been an accident.”

Allison Liao is at least the seventh child aged 7 and under killed by a city driver this year, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog. Sunday’s crash happened 10 days after another SUV driver fatally stuck Kiko Shao, 5, in Sunset Park.

Read more…

23 Comments

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.”

7 Comments

Van Bramer Calls for Traffic Calming After Hit-and-Run Death in Woodside

Luis Bravo’s death at the hands of a hit-and-run driver wasn’t the first warning sign about the dangers of walking along Broadway between 69th Street and Northern Boulevard in Woodside. In March of last year, Ed Surmenian, who lives at the intersection with 61st Street, said drivers regularly speed down Broadway and contacted Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer to complain.

Woodside resident Marion Molno holds a sign about the hit-and-run death of Luis Bravo. Behind her are Assembly Member Marge Markey, State Senator Michael Gianaris, and Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer. Photo: Stephen Miller

Van Bramer sent three letters — one to DOT and two to NYPD — requesting signal retiming and speeding enforcement [PDF 1, 2].

In her response, DOT’s Queens Borough Commissioner Maura McCarthy said that changing the signal timing is not “an effective engineering practice to control speed” and that “no signal timing changes are recommended at this time.”

“A year and a half later, Luis Bravo is killed right on this corner,” Van Bramer said, just days after hosting a press conference in Long Island City to call for changes after a different pedestrian death at Queens Plaza.

Yesterday, Van Bramer was at the intersection of 58th Street and Broadway, urging DOT and NYPD to make the street safer and to track down Bravo’s killer. He was joined by State Senator Michael Gianaris, Assembly Member Marge Markey, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White, Rev. Joshua Hollmann of Christ Lutheran Church, and Woodside residents.

NYPD never replied to either of Van Bramer’s letters, but elected officials yesterday aimed most of their frustration at DOT. “We are sick and tired of asking for the DOT to do the right thing and protect the people of this city,” Gianaris said. “DOT needs to realize it is here to serve the people of this city, not the cars of this city.”

“I’m a little tired of their responses to our requests for safety issues,” Van Bramer said. “It should not take a young man dying to get traffic calming measures implemented.”

Broadway is a four-lane road, with two lanes in each direction. On similar streets, DOT has proposed or implemented road diets that include pedestrian islands and lane reductions. I asked Van Bramer if he wants a similar street design on Broadway. “I’m interested in seeing any configuration that would make it safer for pedestrians,” he said.

DOT has proposed adding painted sidewalk extensions on 37th Avenue near Broadway [PDF], but no plan that addresses the entire corridor. In the wake of Bravo’s death and Van Bramer’s press conference, the agency said it will look at the length of Broadway again. Spokesperson Nicholas Mosquera said in an e-mail that the agency will “[make] use of the most recent data to assess signal timing and intersection controls, and will also look into the feasibility of other traffic calming measures here as well.”

Read more…