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MTA Bus Driver Pleads Guilty in Deadly Brooklyn Hit-and-Run Crash

MTA bus driver Paul Roper pled guilty last week to fatally striking 70-year-old Carol Bell and leaving the scene in Brooklyn in November 2015. Image: WNBC via @BrooklynSpoke

MTA bus driver Paul Roper pled guilty last week to fatally striking 70-year-old Carol Bell and leaving the scene in Brooklyn in November 2015. Image: WNBC via @BrooklynSpoke

An MTA bus driver who killed a senior in Brooklyn last year pled guilty to leaving the scene and violating the victim’s right of way.

Paul Roper hit 70-year-old Carol Bell as she crossed Fulton Street at Sackman Street on November 3, 2015. Video showed Roper strike Bell, who was using a walker, while making a left turn. Reports said Roper briefly stopped the out-of-service bus after hitting Bell before driving away.

Investigators tracked the bus to the East New York Bus Depot. Though NYPD declared “no criminality” before locating Roper, police eventually charged him with leaving the scene, failure to yield, and careless driving.

The crash happened soon after City Hall reached a settlement in a suit filed by the Transport Workers Union, which spent much of 2015 trying to gut the Right of Way Law. The settlement served to clarify the law, but the TWU said it was proof that bus drivers were wrongly arrested for killing people who were following traffic rules.

MTA bus drivers killed four pedestrians over the course of November and December of last year, and have killed at least two people walking in 2016.

Last week Roper pled guilty to the top charge of leaving the scene, a class D felony, as well as a Right of Way Law violation and careless driving. He is scheduled to be sentenced in January.

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No Charges Filed After Drivers Kill 2 People in Brooklyn and the Bronx

Nostrand Avenue at Myrtle Avenue, where a driver killed a 54-year-old man last night. Image: Google Maps

Nostrand Avenue at Myrtle Avenue, where a driver killed a 54-year-old pedestrian last night. Image: Google Maps

NYPD filed no charges after drivers killed two people walking in separate crashes in Brooklyn and the Bronx. The Bronx crash happened in November and NYPD announced the victim’s death today.

Last night at around 8 p.m. the driver of a box truck fatally struck a 54-year-old man at Nostrand and Myrtle avenues in Bedford-Stuyvesant, in the 79th Precinct.

DNAinfo posted video, embedded below, that shows the southbound driver enter the frame at a high rate of speed and pass a stopped car before hitting the victim head-on. NYPD blamed the victim, telling the press he was “outside of the marked crosswalk.” Reports by DNAinfo and the Daily News do not mention driver speed or question how the driver failed to avoid striking the victim.

As of this afternoon, NYPD had no further details on the crash, and the victim’s name had not been released pending family notification. The driver’s identity was not revealed. NYPD usually shields the names of motorists who kill people unless charges are filed.

Motorists have injured 22 people walking at Nostrand and Myrtle, where there is a playground, since 2009, according to city data.

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Cuomo’s DMV: No Rhyme or Reason Guiding Penalties for Deadly Motorists

New Yorkers call for DMV reforms at a January 2015 vigil for Allison Liao, who was killed by a reckless driver in Queens. Photo: Anna Zivarts/Flickr

New Yorkers call for DMV reforms at a January 2015 vigil for Allison Liao, who was killed by a reckless driver in Queens. Photo: Anna Zivarts/Flickr

When a motorist with a New York drivers license is involved in a fatal crash, the Department of Motor Vehicles may hold a hearing to determine whether that person should maintain his or her driving privileges. In practice, these DMV hearings have been wildly inconsistent and often result in zero consequences for deadly motorists. Over the last few years, advocates have called for standardized practices from DMV to suspend or revoke the licenses of drivers whose recklessness behind the wheel leads to serious injury or death.

But a review of recent hearings after fatal crashes reveals no apparent rhyme or reason to the penalties for deadly driving meted out by DMV.

Currently there are 39 cases on the DMV site involving drivers who were identified by NYPD or the media as having fatally struck a New York City pedestrian or cyclist, of which 34 have been resolved. (This probably undercounts the number of such cases, but NYPD shields the names of drivers who kill people unless charges are filed, so in many instances there’s no way for the public to link a driver to a specific crash. The DMV also doesn’t publish victims’ names, making a comprehensive account very difficult.)

There are two basic categories of DMV license penalties — revocations and suspensions. Drivers with revoked licenses can reapply after a time period set by the DMV, which then determines whether or not to restore driving privileges. A revocation is more severe than a suspension, which allows a driver to get his or her license back after a certain period of time simply by paying a fee.

Of the 34 cases that have been decided, the DMV revoked the licenses of 11 drivers, suspended 13, and took no action against 10. Of the 13 suspended drivers, five received 90-day suspensions, three received 365-day suspensions, and one each received suspensions of 75, 120, and 180 days, while two drivers were suspended for an undisclosed time period pending a hearing.

Rather than a consistent system, DMV judges appear to apply random penalties.

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Unlicensed Driver Charged in Hit-and-Run Killing of Brooklyn Pedestrian

A suspect was arrested and charged in the September hit-and-run death of a pedestrian in Sheepshead Bay.

Francis Perez (pictured) had just bought snacks for his son when he was allegedly struck by Brian Young and left to die in the street.

Francis Perez (pictured) had just bought snacks for his son when he was allegedly struck by Brian Young and left to die in the street.

Francis Perez, 28, was crossing Avenue V between Ford and Coyle streets at around 8 p.m. on September 23 when a motorist struck him and fled, according to the Daily News.

“The guy flew in the air, and then the [driver]… stopped at that corner and just drove off,” said a witness.

Perez, who lived and worked near the crash scene, bought snacks for his 8-year-old son just before he was struck.

“He just went to the store to buy some sodas and Snickers,” Perez’s girlfriend Sandra Mcillwain told the News. “Something fell from his hand and he went to pick it up and he went flying.”

“He had the biggest heart,” Mcillwain said. “Ask anyone around here.”

Police identified a suspect, 47-year-old Brian Young, shortly after the crash. Young was arrested on September 27, according to court records. He was charged with leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death and third degree aggravated unlicensed operation.

Leaving the scene of a deadly crash, the top charge against Young, is a class D felony with penalties ranging from probation to seven years in prison. Young was not charged for the act of killing Perez.

Young was arraigned last week. He pled not guilty and was held on $200,000 bond. His next court appearance is scheduled for December.

This fatal crash occurred in the 61st Precinct, and in the City Council district represented by Alan Maisel.

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Cab Driver Who Challenged Constitutionality of ROW Law Pleads Guilty

The cab driver who unsuccessfully challenged the constitutionality of the Right of Way Law after killing Manhattan pedestrian Silvia Gallo pled guilty to violating the law yesterday.

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

Adopted as part of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, the Right of Way Law made it an unclassified misdemeanor for New York City drivers to strike pedestrians or cyclists who have the right of way. MD Hossain was the first person charged under the law, also known as code Section 19-190.

Hossain hit Gallo as he turned left into a crosswalk at Madison Avenue and E. 79th Street on August 29, 2014. Gallo was stuck beneath the cab until witnesses overturned the vehicle to extricate her. She was pronounced dead at Lenox Hill Hospital.

DNAinfo reported that Gallo, a 58-year-old Pilates instructor, was scheduled to leave for Ireland the day after her death, to work and live with her boyfriend. Gallo’s son is former mixed martial arts star Jorge Gurgel.

Hossain was charged with violating the victim’s right of way and careless driving. He filed a lawsuit claiming that Section 19-190 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 application of the law in his case.

In November 2015, New York County Criminal Court Judge Ann E. Scherzer dismissed the suit, rejecting Hossain’s claim that the law presumes driver guilt.

“Before the Right of Way Law, only the officer’s observation of the crash — not videotapes of the crash — would support a charge, except in cases handled by the Collision Investigation Squad,” attorney Steve Vaccaro said of Scherzer’s ruling. “Now, a non-CIS police officer can collect and watch video, record spoken admissions by the driver at the crash scene, and lay charges based on those types of plainly reliable evidence. This is exactly what the Right of Way Law was supposed to accomplish.”

Hossain was fined $750 plus $200 in court fees, according to court records. His drivers license was suspended for six months.

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Matthew von Ohlen’s Alleged Killer Charged With Assault and Manslaughter

A Brooklyn man was arrested and charged yesterday for the death of Matthew von Ohlen, who was killed last summer as he rode his bike on Grand Street in Williamsburg by a motorist who left the scene.

Matthew Von Ohlen

Matthew von Ohlen

Prosecutors say that in the early morning hours of July 2, 56-year-old Juan Maldonado ran a red light, swerved into the bike lane, and crashed into von Ohlen on Grand near Graham Avenue, dragging him 10 to 20 feet before driving away, according to the Village Voice.

Von Ohlen, 35, was a co-founder of Bikestock, which operates bike repair vending machines. He was reportedly headed home to Ridgewood after a bartending shift in Manhattan when he was killed.

Investigators located the vehicle, a black Chevrolet Camaro, a few days after the crash, but NYPD said nothing else publicly about the case until yesterday. Police told Gothamist DNA evidence “has linked both von Ohlen and Maldonado to the Camaro.”

“A young man who was an active member of Brooklyn’s biking community lost his life because a speeding driver struck him in a designated bike lane and sped away,” said acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez in a statement. “This was not an accident, but rather a reckless act for which we intend to hold this defendant accountable.”

Maldonado was charged with assault, manslaughter, leaving the scene, and weapons possession — all felonies — as well as speeding, reckless driving, careless driving, and violating the victim’s right of way, according to court records. The top charge, assault in the first degree, is a class B felony with penalties ranging from five to 25 years in prison.

In the immediate aftermath of the crash, police said video evidence seemed to indicate the driver struck von Ohlen intentionally. The assault charge may suggest prosecutors will argue Maldonado acted with intent.

DNAinfo reported that on the day before von Ohlen was killed, Maldonado was fired from his job as a truck driver for a lumber company, in part because he repeatedly came to work intoxicated.

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TA: Traffic Justice Must Align With Racial Justice

With the incoming president running on a “law and order” message that includes promoting unconstitutional and ineffective stop-and-frisk practices on American city streets, civil rights groups associated with the Black Lives Matter movement are anticipating difficult fights ahead.

In a letter to their members yesterday, the leadership of Transportation Alternatives expressed commitment to the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement and laid out a set of guiding principles for integrating racial justice into their efforts to make NYC streets safe for walking and biking.

“Because we fight to protect New Yorkers in every community, our fight for Vision Zero must also be a fight against institutional, individual and implicit racism,” the letter says. “Transportation Alternatives stands in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.”

The letter begins by noting striking racial imbalances: People of color are disproportionately likely to be harmed by traffic violence, while black drivers are also stopped, ticketed, and searched by police at five times the rate of white drivers, according to a 2015 New York Times report.

TA outlines five commitments:

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Manhattan DA Cy Vance Fields Another Challenge to the Right of Way Law

A livery cab driver who killed a senior in a Manhattan crosswalk last winter is challenging the constitutionality of the Right of Way Law. District Attorney Cy Vance filed a response defending the statute.

At around 8:30 on the morning of February 29, Buddhi Gurung hit 77-year-old Carol Dauplaise with a Toyota sedan while turning left at the corner of Madison Avenue and E. 36th Street. Gurung was charged with violating the victim’s right of way under Section 19-190, an unclassified misdemeanor, and careless driving, which is a traffic infraction.

The Right of Way Law was adopted to give NYPD a tool to pursue cases against drivers who killed or injured people in crashes police did not witness — cases that historically resulted in no investigation and no penalty for motorists. According to court documents, NYPD investigators obtained video that showed Gurung strike Dauplaise as she crossed the street with other pedestrians “in a crosswalk with a walk signal.”

Gurung’s attorney wants the court to dismiss the Section 19-190 charge. Gurung claims the law unconstitutionally relies on a civil or “ordinary” negligence standard to prove failure to exercise due care, and that the law conflicts with state code.

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Driver Who Killed 3 People on Bronx Sidewalk Charged With Manslaughter

Nyanna Aquil, left, her grandfather Louis Perez, and Kristian Leka were killed in the Bronx by a curb-jumping driver last Halloween. Bronx DA Darcel Clark charged Howard Unger with multiple counts of manslaughter, assault, and homicide for the crash.

Nyanna Aquil, left, her grandfather Louis Perez, and Kristian Leka were killed in the Bronx by a curb-jumping driver last Halloween. Bronx DA Darcel Clark charged Howard Unger with multiple counts of manslaughter, assault, and homicide for the crash.

District Attorney Darcel Clark filed manslaughter and homicide charges against a motorist who fatally struck three people, including a child, on a Bronx sidewalk last year.

Howard Unger was indicted this week on three counts of manslaughter, three counts of assault, three counts of homicide, one count of misdemeanor reckless endangerment, and one misdemeanor count of falsifying records, according to court records.

Unger, 53, of the Bronx, hit several vehicles before driving a Dodge sedan over the curb on Morris Park Avenue near Bogart Avenue on the afternoon of October 31, 2015.

Unger crashed into a group of people who were out trick-or-treating, killing 10-year-old Nyanna Aquil; her grandfather, 65-year-old Louis Perez; and Kristian Leka, 24, who pushed others out of Unger’s path.

Aquil’s younger sisters, ages 3 and 8, were injured, as were Leka’s 9-year-old sister and his fiancé, according to the Times and DNAinfo.

Prosecutors say Unger is epileptic and “had not been taking medication as prescribed before the crash,” DNAinfo reported.

Image: WCBS

Image: WCBS

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NYPD: No Charges for School Bus Driver Who Killed Woman in Bronx Crosswalk

A school bus driver struck and killed Carmen Puello in a crosswalk in University Heights. The white line indicates the path of the victim — it’s unknown which direction she was walking — and the red arrow indicates the approximate path of the driver, according to NYPD. Police filed no charges. Image: Google Maps

A school bus driver struck and killed Carmen Puello in a crosswalk in University Heights. The white line indicates the path of the victim — it’s unknown which direction she was walking — and the red arrow indicates the approximate path of the driver, according to NYPD. Police filed no charges. Image: Google Maps

A school bus driver killed a woman in a crosswalk in University Heights last week. NYPD filed no charges.

Carmen Puello, 43, was crossing Sedgwick Avenue at West Fordham Road at around 12:30 last Friday afternoon when the driver, eastbound in the center lane of West Fordham, struck her while turning right onto Sedgwick, NYPD told WCBS.

Carmen Puello at left. Photo via WCBS

Carmen Puello at left. Photo via WCBS

“He passed the light and when he passed the light, he realized he was supposed to make a right turn,” said a witness. “By the time he got past the yellow, he zoomed across and she was already in the intersection and he hit her.”

The bus driver hit Puello “with the front of his vehicle, knocking her to the ground,” NYPD crash investigators told WNBC. “The driver subsequently ran her over and left her lying on the roadway.”

Puello was pronounced dead at Saint Barnabas Hospital.

Sedgwick Avenue at West Fordham Road is a wide intersection with concrete medians in the crosswalks. Between 2009 and 2015, 107 people were injured in crashes at the intersection, according to city crash data. A majority — 74 — were motor vehicle occupants, a sign of collisions occurring at high speeds.

Motorists injured 33 people walking and biking at Sedgwick and West Fordham between 2009 and 2015, and injured four pedestrians there this year as of August.

Adhering to protocol when police don’t file charges, NYPD did not release the bus driver’s name to the press, identifying him or her only as being 47 years old. We called NYPD this afternoon for an update, and to ask who had the right of way, but the department’s public information office had no knowledge of the crash.

The crash that killed Carmen Puello occurred in the 52nd Precinct, and in the City Council district represented by Fernando Cabrera.