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Posts from the Traffic Justice Category

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DA Cy Vance Wins Conviction in Washington Heights Hit-and-Run Killing

A driver charged with fatally striking a man in Washington Heights and leaving the scene was sentenced to prison yesterday.

Antonio Ramirez. Image: WNBC

Antonio Ramirez. Image: WNBC

Jesus Fabian pled guilty to evidence tampering in the death of Antonio Ramirez, according to court records and the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.

The crash occurred on Audubon Avenue at W. 176th Street on October 18, 2013, as the victim walked home from the subway at the end of an overnight shift at the restaurant where he worked.

Ramirez, 40, was married with two kids, who were 14 and 9 when their father was killed. In the aftermath of the crash, local electeds noted that speeding is commonplace in the area where Ramirez lived, due in part to its proximity to the George Washington Bridge and the Cross Bronx Expressway.

Video of the crash showed the driver of the vehicle braking after impact, then apparently driving over the victim, according to Vance’s office. No witnesses could identify Fabian as the driver, and the car was not registered in his name, the DA’s office said. But investigators with Vance’s office and NYPD produced sufficient evidence to indict Fabian on charges of leaving the scene and tampering with evidence.

Evidence tampering is a class E felony. Prosecutors sought the maximum sentence of three-and-a-half to seven years, according to Vance’s office. On Thursday, New York State Supreme Court Judge James Burke sentenced Fabian to three to six years.

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Charges Reduced in Manhattan Hit-and-Run Death of Charity Hicks

Scene of the Midtown crash that killed Charity Hicks. Image: WNBC

Scene of the Midtown crash that killed Charity Hicks. Image: WNBC

Charges have been reduced against a driver who allegedly killed a woman on a Manhattan sidewalk and fled the scene.

On May 31, 2014, Thomas Shanley drove a Dodge SUV onto the curb on 10th Avenue near W. 34th Street, striking a pole that fell on Charity Hicks, according to a criminal court complaint and Gothamist. Hicks, who lived in Detroit and was in the city for a conference, suffered injuries to her head and chest. She died weeks later. A second pedestrian was also injured.

Charity Hicks. Photo via Gothamist

Charity Hicks. Photo via Gothamist

The criminal court complaint said video reviewed by NYPD showed the SUV driver “swerve across two lanes of traffic and onto the sidewalk” on 10th Avenue. Shanley’s cell phone, which was recovered at the scene, indicated that the user was sending a text message at the time of the collision, according to the complaint.

Investigators found Shanley, who fled the scene on foot, in New Jersey and arrested him in August 2014, the Daily News reported. He was on parole at the time of the crash.

District Attorney Cy Vance initially charged Shanley with manslaughter and felony leaving the scene — class C and D felonies, respectively. However, the current charges against him are (class D) felony leaving the scene, criminally negligent homicide (a class E felony), and leaving the scene of an incident without reporting (a class A misdemeanor). Vance’s office declined comment on why the manslaughter charge was dismissed, as the case remains open.

In New York City, motorists accused in deadly hit-and-run crashes usually face a top charge of leaving the scene — assuming they are prosecuted at all — and are rarely charged for taking a life. So though the top charge in this case was reduced to felony leaving the scene, it’s noteworthy that Vance elected to pursue a homicide charge and succeeded in securing an indictment.

Class D felonies carry a maximum penalty of seven years in prison. Shanley is expected to go to trial in March. He has been in jail since pleading not guilty in January 2015, court records say.

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Richard Brown: Probation for Hit-and-Run Driver Who Killed Kamil Gorski

The hit-and-run driver who killed Kamil Gorski got probation and $1,088 in fines and fees after DA Richard Brown dropped felony charges and allowed a misdemeanor plea deal.

The hit-and-run driver who killed Kamil Gorski got probation and $1,088 in fines and fees after DA Richard Brown dropped felony charges for a misdemeanor plea deal.

A driver charged with a felony for the hit-and-run death of a Queens pedestrian was sentenced to probation as a result of a plea deal from District Attorney Richard Brown.

Raul Reyes and a second driver hit 36-year-old Navy veteran Kamil Gorski on Metropolitan Avenue on February 3, 2015, according to Brown’s office. Gorski died at Elmhurst Hospital.

Brown did not charge the second driver, who remained at the scene. Brown charged Reyes with leaving the scene of an accident resulting in injury, which is a class D felony, and issued a press release saying Reyes “face[d] up to four years in prison.” Last December, however, Brown reduced the charges, and allowed Reyes to plead to a misdemeanor leaving the scene, which carries a maximum one-year jail sentence.

This week, pursuant to his plea agreement with DA Brown, Reyes was sentenced to three years probation, a $1,000 fine, and $88 in administrative fees for leaving Kamil Gorski to die in the street, according to court records. There is no indication that the court took action against Reyes’s driver’s license.

As Streetsblog reported last month, Gorski is one of several Queens hit-and-run victims whose killers avoided a sentence that included jail time, either because Brown accepted a plea or filed no charges in the first place.

If New York City hopes to get a handle on its hit-and-run epidemic, which results in thousands of injuries and deaths annually, district attorneys will have to send a message that such crimes will not be tolerated. Based on his record of prosecuting traffic violence over the last year, Brown earned a middling C+ in the Transportation Alternatives 2015 Vision Zero Report Card, which said the DA “seems uninterested in protecting the lives of constituents.”

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Felony Hit-and-Run Charge for Driver Who Allegedly Killed Can Reng Ma

A suspect was arrested and charged in the hit-and-run killing of cyclist Can Reng Ma in Sheepshead Bay, and NYPD is making exculpatory statements on the alleged driver’s behalf.

Can Reng Ma

Can Reng Ma

Junior Hicks was charged with one count of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in injury, a class D felony, according to court records. WABC reported that Hicks, 31, is from Queens.

On Tuesday Ma, 54, was riding his bike on Avenue U, on the way home from his job at a nearby lumber supply company, when he was fatally struck by the driver of a rented box truck. Police arrested Hicks yesterday afternoon.

No charges were filed for the act of taking Can Reng Ma’s life.

WABC spoke with relatives and friends of the victim, who reportedly came to the U.S. from China seven years ago:

Around the warehouse, Can Reng was known for his work ethic, generosity, a humble soul who adored his wife, daughter, and teenage son.

“We do love him, we feel so sorry about him,” [co-worker Kimmie] Kwok said.

Police told the press the person who killed Ma may not have seen him — a ready-made defense, since under state law prosecutions for hit-and-run crashes hinge on whether it can be proven that the driver knew or had reason to know a collision occurred. The vast majority of New York City motorists involved in hit-and-run crashes resulting in injury and death are never charged with a crime.

After Hicks was taken into custody, an NYPD spokesperson told Gothamist a “preliminary investigation indicates that Hicks did not know he had struck someone.”

Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, issued a statement today praising police for making an arrest, and called on NYPD to stop “making unauthorized statements to news outlets even though evidence [is] still being collected.”

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DOT: 1,445 Pedestrians and Cyclists Injured, 16 Killed in December [Updated]

Ovidio Jaramillo, Thomas Violante, Victoria Nicodemus, and Thomas Kirby

Ovidio Jaramillo, Thomas Violante, Victoria Nicodemus, and Thomas Kirby

Editors’ note: This post was edited after publication to include updated information pertaining to the crash that killed Brooklyn pedestrian Eleonora Shulkin.

Twenty-three people died in New York City traffic in December, and 4,657 were injured, according to the DOT Vision Zero View crash data map.

As of the end of December, DOT reported 149 pedestrians and cyclists killed by city motorists in 2015, and 14,888 injured, compared to 159 deaths and 14,967 injuries in 2014.

Citywide, at least 16 pedestrians were fatally struck by drivers last month. Among the victims were Victoria Nicodemus, Thomas Kirby, Ovidio Jaramillo, Ramnauth Mahabir, Eleonora Shulkin, Thomas Violante, Giovanna Livolsi, Suhuyn Park, and an unnamed female pedestrian in Brooklyn.

Motorists killed at least four seniors in December: Ramnauth Mahabir, 73; Thomas Violante, 72; Giovanna Livolsi, 76; and the unnamed Brooklyn pedestrian, whose age was reported as 77.

DOT reported no cyclist deaths in December.

Across the city, 1,152 pedestrians and 293 cyclists were reported hurt in collisions with motor vehicles. Per NYPD policy, few of these crashes were investigated by trained officers.

Of nine fatal crashes on surface streets reported by Streetsblog and other outlets, no motorists were known to have been charged criminally for causing a death. Based on NYPD and media accounts, at least four victims were likely walking or cycling with the right of way when they were struck, but police and district attorneys are known to have applied the city’s Right of Way Law in only one of those crashes.

The Daily News reported that MTA bus driver Wayne Alman was charged under the Right of Way Law, code Section 19-190, for striking Eleonora Shulkin in a crosswalk in Sheepshead Bay. However, court records indicate Alman was cited for two traffic infractions under Section 19-190, but was not charged with a misdemeanor for harming the victim. The infraction provision of the Right of Way Law is supposed to apply to right-of-way violations that don’t result in injury. The top charge against Alman is a summons for careless driving, according to court records.

NYPD cited Zafrom Ghafoor with careless driving and failure to yield for fatally striking the unnamed Brooklyn pedestrian.

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Driver Who Killed Jean Chambers Off the Streets, No Thanks to DMV

Thanks to Manhattan DA Cy Vance and Judge Daniel Conviser, the serial reckless driver who killed Jean Chambers won't be driving for a while. But he could still have his license reinstated by the New York State DMV.

Thanks to Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance and Judge Daniel Conviser, the serial reckless driver who killed Jean Chambers won’t be driving for a while. But he could still have his license reinstated by the New York State DMV.

A driver with a staggering record of recklessness, who nevertheless had a valid New York State driver’s license, was sentenced to jail time and had his license revoked for the death of Manhattan pedestrian Jean Chambers.

Roberto Mercado hit Chambers while making a left turn at West End Avenue and W. 95th Street in the late morning hours of July 10, 2014. Mercado struck Chambers as he drove through the crosswalk and into the southbound lanes while facing north.

District Attorney Cy Vance charged Mercado with homicide — an unusually serious charge for a sober New York City motorist who remained at the scene of a fatal crash. Mercado was convicted at trial last November. Yesterday Judge Daniel Conviser sentenced him to one to three years in state prison.

At the sentencing, Conviser said Mercado was completely responsible for the crash, according to the Daily News:

“To me this is not an accident … It was a violent crime. It was a crime of extraordinary violence and the fact that you didn’t intend to kill Jean Chambers is fully accounted for.”

“As New Yorkers, we shouldn’t have to be fearful … that we can be mowed down by somebody who is acting with extraordinary carelessness and extraordinary criminal negligence.”

Mercado will be eligible for parole in eight months, the Daily News reported. Conviser revoked Mercado’s license, which in New York State means he may have his driving privileges reinstated after a prescribed period of time, pending DMV approval. Update: Conviser revoked Mercado’s license for six months, according to court records, which is generally considered the minimum for revocations.

“Due to this defendant’s criminal negligence, a beloved artist, mother, wife, and community member is dead,” said Vance in a press release issued Tuesday. “Roberto Mercado’s driving record demonstrates a history of carelessness and illegal, dangerous conduct.”

Vance was apparently motivated to bring the homicide charge in part because Mercado has a rap sheet of citations, crashes, and unlicensed driving dating to the 1980s. In a letter to Conviser [PDF] sent last December, Assistant District Attorney Michael Pasinkoff, who prosecuted the case, asked that Mercado be sentenced “to the maximum term authorized by law.”

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Sidewalk Killer Free to Drive Thanks to Judge and Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson

The man who killed Victoria Nicodemus on a Brooklyn sidewalk kept his driver’s license because, according to the judge, DA Ken Thompson did not charge him with reckless driving.

The man who killed Victoria Nicodemus on a Brooklyn sidewalk kept his driver’s license because, according to the judge, DA Ken Thompson did not charge him with reckless driving.

A judge refused to take the license of the motorist who killed Victoria Nicodemus on a Brooklyn sidewalk because, she said, District Attorney Ken Thompson filed no charges for reckless driving.

Marlon Sewell was allegedly driving without a valid license when he hit Nicodemus and two other people on Fulton Street on December 6, injuring Nicodemus’s boyfriend and the third victim. Thompson filed a top charge of unlicensed aggravated operation, a low-level misdemeanor and the same charge that police and prosecutors apply when an unlicensed driver commits a traffic infraction.

The DA did not charge Sewell, who reportedly has a history of driving without regard for others’ safety, for the act of killing Nicodemus and injuring the other victims — declining even to file charges under the Right of Way Law.

In December Judge Marguerite Dougherty denied a request from Thompson’s office to hold Sewell on bail based on the charges against him. “Without additional charges I see no reason to set bail,” Dougherty said last month. On Monday Dougherty told prosecutors “they had not presented an argument that would revoke … Sewell’s driver’s license,” according to DNAinfo.

“There are no allegations of the defendant recklessly driving,” said Dougherty.

She added that Sewell’s license had only been suspended at the time due to lack of child support and has since been restored.

Prosecutors told Dougherty that video evidence indicates Sewell had no “innocent reason to drive over the curb,” but DNAinfo reported that no additional charges have been filed because Sewell claimed he was “lightheaded” due to a carbon monoxide leak in his car.

Dougherty, who was appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2015, said that since Sewell’s SUV was impounded there was no reason to prevent him from being able to drive legally. “It negates the necessity,” she said.

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Criminal Court Judge Upholds Constitutionality of Right of Way Law

A judge ruled against a motorist who filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Right of Way Law.

Silvia Gallo and her son, former MMA star Jorge Gurgel. Photo: Cage Potato

Silvia Gallo and her son, former MMA star Jorge Gurgel. Photo: Cage Potato

MD Hossain, a yellow cab driver, was the first person charged after the law took effect in August 2014, when he drove a taxi into 58-year-old Silvia Gallo, killing her, while turning into a crosswalk at Madison Avenue and E. 79th Street.

According to a ruling by New York City Criminal Court Judge Ann E. Scherzer, Hossain claimed the law violates the state and U.S. constitutions by “undermin[ing] the very concept of innocent until proven guilty” and “purport[ing] to regulate alleged reckless driving ‘by imposing criminal penalties on a strict liability’ basis.” Hossain also challenged the law as it was applied in his case.

Hossain claimed the Right of Way Law does not require proof of driver negligence, or proof that a driver committed “any other traffic violations,” in order to be held liable for harming people, and therefore improperly shifts the burden of proof to motorists who are charged under the law.

Scherzer ruled that strict liability laws are authorized by the New York State code, and rejected Hossain’s assertion that the Right of Way Law presumes driver guilt.

In fact, to sustain a conviction for this charge the People would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that (1) defendant operated a motor vehicle, (2) that defendant’s motor vehicle caused contact with a pedestrian or cyclist, (3) that the pedestrian or cyclist had the right of way at the time of the impact … and (4) suffered physical injury as a result of the collision.

In addition to the elements listed above, the statute provides that physical injury that was not caused by a driver’s failure to exercise due care does not violate the statute.

“None of [the] defendant’s arguments come close” to demonstrating that the law is unconstitutional, Scherzer wrote.

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Family of Victoria Nicodemus Demands Justice for Victims of Traffic Violence

Standing by his mother and CM Laurie Cumbo, Peter Miller shared memories of his sister and demanded justice for her and other victims of traffic violence. Photo: David Meyer

Peter Miller, far right, shared memories of his sister Victoria Nicodemus and demanded justice for her and other victims of traffic violence. Photo: David Meyer

Before she was killed on December 6 by an unlicensed curb-jumping driver, 30-year-old Victoria Nicodemus was making a name for herself as an art curator. Last night, her colleagues at Indiewalls joined with her family, local electeds, and nearly 60 local residents to connect her life’s work with a call for justice for victims of traffic violence.

Marlon Sewell was driving his SUV without a license or insurance when he veered around a parked bus and onto the sidewalk, killing Nicodemus and injuring two others. This was the second time this year Sewell had been caught driving without a valid license — his license had recently been suspended for failing to report for multiple traffic summonses. He received two low-level misdemeanors and has not been charged with homicide.

Last night, Nicodemus’s brother Peter Miller emphasized that his sister’s death was not an accident, but the result of a chain of decisions made by Sewell and policymakers. “It was his choice to avoid damage to his car and himself as he swerved — to avoid an inanimate object — onto a sidewalk filled with unprotected pedestrians,” he said. “And it’s the city’s choice not prioritize prosecution of unlicensed and uninsured drivers.”

Her other brother, Hank Miller, demanded action from the city, state legislators, and Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson. “It is incumbent upon local district attorneys to pursue these types of cases more aggressively,” he said, “and consult with state and city legislators to develop statutes that give prosecutors and law enforcement better tools to combat this epidemic affecting pedestrian safety.”

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Tonight: Vigil in Fort Greene for Victoria Nicodemus

The family of Victoria Nicodemus will join with local electeds and advocates tonight to call on DA Ken Thompson to bring reckless drivers to justice.

The family of Victoria Nicodemus will join with local electeds and advocates tonight to call on DA Ken Thompson to bring reckless drivers to justice.

Two weeks ago, a curb-jumping driver struck and killed Victoria Nicodemus in Fort Greene. Tonight, her family and coworkers will join with electeds and advocates to demand justice for victims of traffic violence. The public is invited to attend.

On Sunday, December 6, at 5:30 p.m., Nicodemus, 30, was walking with her boyfriend along Fulton Street when Marlon Sewell, 39, veered his SUV around a stopped bus and onto the sidewalk. Nicodemus was struck and died from her injuries at Brooklyn Hospital Center. Her boyfriend, 37, and another man, 75, were also injured in the crash. Sewell was charged with aggravated unlicensed operation and driving without insurance, two low-level misdemeanors. He was not charged with homicide.

Nicodemus was an art curator for the organization Indiewalls, which helps bring independent art to commercial spaces across the country. Tonight, Indiewalls will join her family, Transportation Alternatives, and Council Member Laurie Cumbo for a vigil and public art installation meant to call attention to traffic violence and demand that Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson prosecute the case and hold Sewell accountable for Nicodemus’ death.

The vigil starts at 6:30 p.m. at the northeast corner of Fulton Street and South Portland Avenue, by the Habana Outpost restaurant.