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Vance Deal: $400 Fine for Unlicensed Driver Who Killed Senior in Crosswalk

An unlicensed driver who fatally struck a senior as she crossed the street with the right of way will pay a $400 fine, pursuant to a plea arrangement with Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.

NYPD and Manhattan DA Cy Vance declined to charge an unlicensed motorist for causing the death of a senior who was crossing the street with the right of way. The driver was fined $400 for driving without a license. Photo: Brad Aaron

NYPD and Manhattan DA Cy Vance declined to charge an unlicensed motorist for causing the death of a senior who was crossing the street with the right of way. The driver was fined $400 for driving without a license. Photo: Brad Aaron

Keiko Ohnishi was walking with a cane across Madison Avenue at E. 98th Street on September 4 at around 9:47 a.m. when Kristin Rodriguez, 25, drove a minivan into her while making a left turn from E. 98th onto Madison, according to NYPD and the Post.

“[The van] hit her and she [flew] up and back down and he kept on going with her under him,” witness Tracy Molloy told the Post. “He was trying to make the light like every New York City driver.”

“I walked over and started to pull her dress down, and the driver was panicking,” said Neud Clermont, another witness. “He was like, ‘Oh my god, I didn’t see you!’”

Ohnishi, 66, was admitted to Mount Sinai Hospital in critical condition. She died from her injuries. Streetsblog was made aware of her death via the NYPD monthly crash data report and WNYC’s Mean Streets project.

Rodriguez, whose van had North Carolina plates, was summonsed for failure to yield and charged with third degree aggravated unlicensed operation, according to the Post and court records. He was not charged under city code Section 19-190, known as the Right of Way Law, which as of August makes it a misdemeanor to strike a pedestrian or cyclist who has the right of way. NYPD and Vance did not upgrade charges against Rodriguez after Ohnishi died.

Aggravated unlicensed operation is an unclassified misdemeanor, the lowest level misdemeanor category. It is seemingly the default charge against unlicensed drivers who kill New York City pedestrians, and is also applied when unlicensed drivers commit non-criminal traffic infractions. Third degree aggravated unlicensed operation carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Drivers who plead guilty are normally fined with no jail time.

At a Fordham Law School event in November, Vance said he is prevented from prosecuting drivers who kill in cases that “may not have the facts to support a criminal prosecution and conviction.” For this crash and others like it, however, the Vance team clearly had enough evidence to bring a criminal case, yet declined to charge an unlicensed motorist who failed to yield for taking a life. Since the driver was charged with unlicensed driving and failure to yield, this case also seems to satisfy the so-called “rule of two.”

On Tuesday, Rodriguez, who was free on $1,000 bond, pled guilty and was sentenced to a $400 fine and $88 in fees, court records say. There is no indication that the court took action against his driver’s license. Rodriguez is scheduled to pay his fine in March.

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Does Cy Vance Use His Surveillance Camera Bank to Fight Traffic Violence?

In New York City, if you hit someone with a motor vehicle and keep driving, odds are you will get away with it. NYPD made arrests in just 25 percent of fatal hit-and-run crashes in 2012, according to Transportation Alternatives. And in many cases where the driver is eventually identified, a simple “I didn’t see her” is all it takes to satisfy prosecutors and police.

A hit-and-run truck driver nearly killed Wendy Ruther and her 3-year-old son Justin. Is Cy Vance putting his lauded video surveillance system to work on the case? Photo via DNAinfo

A hit-and-run truck driver nearly killed Wendy Ruther and her 3-year-old son Justin. Is Cy Vance putting his lauded video surveillance system to work on the case? Photo via DNAinfo

On December 1, a truck driver hit Wendy Ruther and nearly ran over her young son, Justin, as the pair walked to Justin’s preschool. The two were in a crosswalk at W. 65th Street and Broadway, DNAinfo reported, when the driver made a right turn, hit them both, and continued south on Broadway. CBS reports that NYPD has yet to make an arrest, and Wendy Ruther remains hospitalized with serious injuries.

“She recalls feeling the three wheels of the truck going over her,” said the woman’s husband, Aldo Lombardi.

The hit-and-run accident, steps away from Lincoln Center, a week ago Monday nearly killed her.

“She still cannot believe she is alive,” Aldo Lombardi said.

Wendy Lombardi has a crushed leg, a fractured pelvis, and a deep gash near her eye. The injuries came as she managed to save the life of her 3-year-old son Justin.

“He recalls being hit by a big wheel,” Aldo Lombardi said. “Wendy managed to push him off of danger.”

CBS says Aldo Lombardi ”was told that the Lincoln Center security cameras at the scene were pointing the wrong way,” and “no one got a close look” at the driver. “I would ask him to come forward,” Lombardi said. “I would like him not to be on the streets.”

It seems that in Manhattan, at least, NYPD and vehicular crimes prosecutors have a powerful tool to help catch hit-and-run drivers, and collect evidence for other traffic crash cases. The recent New York Times profile of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance described a web of video surveillance cameras spanning the borough, with access at investigators’ fingertips.

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Driver With Revoked License Not Charged for Killing East Flatbush Senior

A driver with a revoked license killed a senior in Brooklyn Tuesday. As of Wednesday he was not charged by NYPD or District Attorney Ken Thompson for causing a death.

The crash occurred in the 67th Precinct, where motorists have killed at least three pedestrians this year, and at least seven pedestrians since January 2013.

Will District Attorney Ken Thompson charge an unlicensed driver for killing a Brooklyn senior? Image: ##http://www.ny1.com/content/politics/inside_city_hall/190291/ny1-online--brooklyn-da-candidate-thompson-responds-to-attacks##NY1##

Will District Attorney Ken Thompson charge an unlicensed driver for killing a Brooklyn senior? Image: NY1

At around 5:40 p.m., Joan Hale, 71, was crossing Foster Avenue at New York Avenue north to south when the motorist, eastbound on Foster, hit her with a 2012 Subaru Outback, according to NYPD. Police said the driver, a 75-year-old man, was proceeding with a green light, but had no information on how fast he was driving or how he failed to avoid hitting the victim.

Hale suffered severe head trauma and died at Kings County Hospital. The driver was arrested for driving with a revoked license. His name was withheld by NYPD.

It is not easy to lose a driver’s license in New York State, even temporarily. Offenses that make a license subject to revocation include DWI, homicide, leaving the scene of a crash resulting in injury or death, and three speeding or misdemeanor traffic violations committed within 18 months. For all of these offenses, except one, the minimum penalty imposed by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles is a six-month revocation. Driving with a BAC of .18 percent or higher carries a revocation of at least one year. There is no automatic DMV penalty for killing someone with a motor vehicle.

State lawmakers have failed to hold unlicensed motorists accountable. Legislation to make it a class E felony to cause injury or death while driving without a license was rejected by the State Senate this year, and did not come to a vote in the Assembly. Another bill to require drivers with suspended licenses to surrender vehicle registrations and license plates did not get a vote in either chamber last session. As it stands, a $500 fine is the standard penalty for killing a New York City pedestrian while driving without a valid license.

Motorists have killed at least five New York City pedestrians in December, including a child and three seniors. In four cases, NYPD blamed the victim in the press. Last Friday a driver hit 64-year-old Gloria Ramiro as she crossed Third Avenue at 81st Street. She died from her injuries Monday. Police said Ramiro was “crossing mid-block,” according to DNAinfo. The driver was not charged.

To voice your concerns about neighborhood traffic safety directly to Deputy Inspector Joseph M. Gulotta, the commanding officer of the 67th Precinct, go to the next precinct community council meeting. The 67th Precinct council meetings happen at 8 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month at the precinct, 2820 Snyder Avenue. Call 718-287-2530 for information.

The City Council district where Joan Hale was killed is represented by Jumaane Williams. Motorists have killed at least three pedestrians in Williams’s district in 2014. To encourage Williams to take action to improve street safety in his district and citywide, contact him at 212-788-6859, JWilliams@council.nyc.gov or @JumaaneWilliams.

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Cy Vance Files Homicide Charge in Lower East Side Pedestrian Death

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance filed a homicide charge against a driver accused of killing a pedestrian on the Lower East Side in November.

On the evening of November 24, the driver of a BMW sedan hit 57-year-old Robert Perry on the Bowery near Rivington Street, and kept driving until he hit a fire hydrant a block away, according to DNAinfo. Perry reportedly often stayed at the Bowery Mission, which is near the site of the crash.

NYPD arrested Danny Lin, 24, and charged him with homicide and leaving the scene. According to court records, criminally negligent homicide is currently the sole charge against him.

This crash appears to follow a pattern of New York City district attorneys bringing homicide charges against motorists accused of causing death through acts of especially brazen recklessness. According to crash data compiled by Streetsblog, in 2013 city DAs filed homicide charges only twice — once in Brooklyn, once in Queens — against drivers who killed pedestrians or cyclists and were not also charged for other aggravating circumstances, including driving drunk, leaving the scene, striking the victim intentionally, or fleeing police after committing another crime. 

A few hours after Perry was killed, a livery cab driver fatally struck cyclist Shan Zheng at Pitt Street at E. Houston Street. Neither NYPD nor Vance filed charges against the cab driver. Vance did not bring criminal charges against the cab driver who struck and killed 9-year-old Cooper Stock as he and his father crossed the street with the right of way. These are typical outcomes for crashes that result in the death of a New York City cyclist or pedestrian.

In New York State, criminally negligent homicide is a class E felony, the least severe felony category, with sentences ranging from probation to four years imprisonment.

Danny Lin is free on $10,000 bond, court records say, and is next scheduled to appear in court in February.

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Dana Lerner: Cy Vance Botched the Token Case Against My Son’s Killer

The cab driver who killed Cooper Stock is scheduled to be back in court in two months, thanks to what Stock’s mother Dana Lerner termed “inept” handling of the case by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s office.

Meanwhile, Koffi Komlani’s apparent defense — that weather was to blame for the crash — is the same excuse Manhattan prosecutors gave Lerner for not pursuing a criminal case.

Cooper Stock

Cooper Stock

Komlani went before a judge this morning to answer a summons for careless driving, the only charge issued to him after the January crash. Though Komlani hit both Cooper and his father, Richard Stock, as they crossed an Upper West Side street in the crosswalk with the right of way, Vance filed no criminal charges.

Today prosecutors added a summons for failure to yield. Komlani is fighting the tickets, so the case was continued. By the time Komlani is back in court to contest the two traffic summonses, it will have been 13 months since the crash.

Lerner released a statement today, via Transportation Alternatives:

Obviously a failure to yield violation should have been issued to the driver who killed my son, Cooper. It is unbelievable that the ticket was not presented to the driver at the scene when he killed Cooper. My persistence has led to heightened attention to the need for justice in this case — it should not be up to the loved ones of victims to ensure that the justice system does its job. Now my family must endure even more heartache as we wait for February when the driver will be in court again related to this long-overdue charge. Both the NYPD and the district attorney, at the very least, owe me a public explanation for this wrong-doing.

“They’re just so inept,” Lerner told the Post, referring to Vance’s office.

Careless driving carries a maximum penalty of up to 15 days in jail, a fine of up to $750, a license suspension of up to six months, and a drivers’ ed course. The minimum is no penalty. Outside the courtroom, Komlani’s attorney Raymond Colon said Vance has offered Komlani a license suspension and a fine.

Colon said there is video of the crash, but neither he nor Komlani have seen it. ”It was dark,” Colon said. “The weather may have been a little inclement, and there may have been a lot of traffic.”

Lerner told Streetsblog during an interview last summer that, in one of their early meetings, a Vance ADA said it would be difficult to make a case against Komlani because “it was raining” at the time of the crash.

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NYPD: 1,399 Pedestrians and Cyclists Injured, 16 Killed in Traffic in October

Image: NYPD

Image: NYPD

Twenty people were killed in New York City traffic in October, and 4,692 were injured, according to the latest NYPD crash data report [PDF].

As of the end of October, 124 pedestrians and cyclists were reported killed by city motorists this year, and 12,228 injured, compared to 135 deaths and 13,310 injuries for the same period in 2013.

Citywide, at least 15 pedestrians and one cyclist were fatally struck by drivers in October: three pedestrians in Manhattan; two pedestrians in the Bronx; four pedestrians in Brooklyn; five pedestrians and one cyclist in Queens; and one pedestrian in Staten Island. Among the victims were Cristina Alonso, Anna Maria Moström, Sau Ying Lee, Winnifred Matthias, Martin Srodin, Rylee Ramos, Florence Bello, Edgar Torres, an unnamed male pedestrian in the Bronx, an unnamed male pedestrian in Queens, and two unnamed male pedestrians in Manhattan.

Motorists killed at least one child and three seniors in October: Rylee Ramos, 8; Sau Ying Lee, 90; Winnifred Matthias, 77; and an unnamed 86-year-old pedestrian.

Motorists killed at least two pedestrians whose deaths were apparently not covered in the press. Most every month, there are pedestrian and cyclist deaths that go unreported other than the scant details provided weeks later in the NYPD dataset, which lists only the intersection closest to the crash and the victim’s mode of travel. These crashes are enumerated by WNYC on its “Mean Streets” page.

Across the city, 969 pedestrians and 430 cyclists were reported hurt in collisions with motor vehicles. Per NYPD policy, few of these crashes were investigated by trained officers.

Of 12 fatal crashes on surface streets reported by Streetsblog and other outlets, one motorist was known to have been charged for causing a death: the Coca-Cola truck driver who hit an 86-year-old pedestrian on the Upper East Side. 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 only once. Historically, nearly half of motorists who kill a New York City pedestrian or cyclist do not receive so much as a citation for careless driving.

In four cases, immediately after a pedestrian was killed, police exonerated the driver by telling the press the victim was “outside the crosswalk.”

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Families for Safe Streets to Call on DAs to Prosecute Reckless Drivers

Left to right: District attorneys Richard Brown, Dan Donovan, and Robert Johnson are up for re-election in 2015. NYC DAs have emerged as a major obstacle to Mayor de Blasio's Vision Zero program.

Left to right: District attorneys Richard Brown, Dan Donovan, and Robert Johnson are up for re-election in 2015. NYC DAs have emerged as a major obstacle to Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero program.

Update: Sunday’s event has been postponed, according to a TA press release, “in solidarity with those protesting the grand jury decision not to indict in the Eric Garner case.”

The cab driver who killed 9-year-old Cooper Stock is scheduled to appear in court Friday. Koffi Komlani was issued two traffic tickets, but unlike most drivers who kill New York City pedestrians, his case will be adjudicated in criminal court, the venue preferred by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.

The top “charge” against Komlani is careless driving, which carries a maximum penalty of up to 15 days in jail, a fine of up to $750, a license suspension of up to six months, and a mandatory drivers’ ed course. The minimum penalty is no penalty. As Jill Abramson wrote Wednesday: “It is unclear whether [Komlani] will be fined or otherwise punished. D.A. Vance wanted him to be forced to appear in court, in part to blunt criticism of his office for not bringing criminal charges in the case.”

Regardless of what happens tomorrow, on Sunday Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets will hold a rally on the steps of City Hall to call on city district attorneys to prosecute reckless drivers who cause death and serious injury. Along with NYPD and the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, New York City district attorneys have emerged as a major obstacle to Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative. A TA press release says victims and their loved ones want DAs “to become partners in the Vision Zero effort.”

“Why is it that if you kill someone while driving drunk, the district attorney will press charges, but not if you kill or maim someone through reckless behavior on the road,” said Amy Cohen, whose 12-year-old son Sammy Cohen Eckstein was killed by a motorist last year, in a press release. “Crashes caused by aggressive driving are not accidents. When drivers make turns at full speed without even looking, or speed through intersections and kill people, D.A.s never press charges. We need to change the culture on our streets and make it unacceptable to drive recklessly. We will never get to zero fatalities and serious injuries unless we hold dangerous drivers accountable for their actions.”

“District attorneys are the people’s prosecutors, and they must champion public safety,” said Paul Steely White, TA executive director. “The public needs more information about how D.A.s determine whether to prosecute after serious crashes, and how often they bring charges.”

White called for City Council oversight hearings and legislation to requiring DAs to report to the public on traffic crash prosecutions.

Richard Brown of Queens, Robert Johnson of the Bronx, and Dan Donovan of Staten Island are up for re-election in 2015. Transportation Alternatives “will press the issue of driver accountability with all the candidates,” White said.

Sunday’s rally begins at 2 p.m.

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For Traffic Violence Victims, Cy Vance’s “Moneyball” Still a Field of Dreams

You won’t find much discussion of traffic violence in Chip Brown’s 5,500-word encomium to Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, published Wednesday by the New York Times Magazine. Other than noting that dismissals of drunk driving cases are down, according to Vance’s office, Brown doesn’t broach the subject at all.

Despite advances in other areas, there is no evidence that Vance has applied his lauded moon shot ethos to traffic crime. Photo: Brad Aaron

Despite advances in other areas, there is no evidence that Manhattan District Attorney Vance, now in his second term, has applied his moon shot ethos to traffic crime. Photo: Brad Aaron

To rein in gang violence and other street-level crime, Brown writes, the Vance team maintains close contact with NYPD, keeps a database of public and private surveillance cameras to track suspects, and even investigates unreported shootings through social media. ”Their pole star wasn’t convictions but safety, a goal as readily attained by preventing crime as by prosecuting it,” writes Brown.

“We ask ourselves, Are we doing everything possible to reduce crime?” said Vance hire Chauncey Parker, whose job, according to Brown, is “dreaming up ideas, no matter how outlandish, that might reduce crime.”

It’s telling that while diagramming the gee-whiz mechanics behind Vance’s “intelligence-driven” approach to crime fighting, no one from the Vance camp highlights any data-centric techniques the DA’s office has applied to reducing traffic crashes in Manhattan, which still result in thousands of injuries and deaths per year.

Fortunately, a few paragraphs from another story published yesterday, Jill Abramson’s examination of the suffering and grief caused by reckless drivers, and how it is compounded by the failure of New York City law enforcers to seek justice for victims, fill the gap in Brown’s piece nicely.

Abramson cites the death of 9-year-old Cooper Stock, killed last January by a cab driver while in a crosswalk with his father, as one example of a deadly crash that resulted in no charges from Vance.

The most frequent complaint voiced by the families of dead pedestrians is the reluctance of the city’s D.A.s, especially Manhattan’s Cyrus Vance, to file criminal charges against drivers. “In the Cooper Stock case they could have at least suspended the driver’s license of the cab driver,” said attorney Matthew Dawes, “they just don’t have any cojones.”

This is surprising, because Vance made a campaign vow to abrogate the Rule of Two and to be more aggressive. But early in his tenure, his office had an embarrassing defeat in the case of the death of a 68-year-old woman who was killed by a driver while she was bicycling in Chelsea with her husband over the Fourth of July weekend in 2011.

Her name was Marilyn Dershowitz and she was the sister-in-law of famed law professor Alan Dershowitz. The driver, postal worker Ian Clement, had initially left the scene of the crash. He was acquitted by a jury in 2012.

Since then, there haven’t been any high-profile prosecutions by Vance in traffic death cases.

Read more…

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DMV Primer: How the Safety Hearing System Lets Deadly Drivers Off the Hook

street_justice2

This is part of a series of posts on the workings of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, its role in deterring or facilitating traffic violence, and agency reforms that could make streets and roads safer.

Crash victims and their families have learned to expect little from New York City’s police and district attorneys, most of whom reflexively “suspect no criminality” in a traffic crash unless the driver was drunk, unlicensed, or fled the scene. Even the minimal penalty of a traffic ticket issued to a reckless driver who injures or kills often doesn’t stick. When this happens, what option is left, other than a civil trial, to penalize dangerous driving? In the state of New York, the mechanism is supposed to be a DMV “safety hearing,” which could result in a driver’s license being suspended or revoked.

But the safety hearing system does not fulfill this function. One of the key reasons is that safety hearings are held in too few cases. Following the revelation that traffic tickets issued to Ahmad Abu-Zayedeh for killing Allison Liao had been dismissed, DMV claimed that “whenever a fatal accident occurs,” it holds a safety hearing:

Mr. Abu-Zayedeha was found not guilty and those tickets were dismissed on July 1, 2014… However, whenever a fatal accident occurs anywhere in the state, the DMV schedules a special safety hearing. That hearing for Mr. Abu-Zayedeha has been set for January 6.

DMV’s claim is false. In fact, DMV picks and chooses which crashes will result in a safety hearing. Even in fatal crashes, where there is substantial evidence of driver recklessness, DMV may not hold a hearing.

For example, teacher Rasha Shamoon was fatally injured by an SUV driver while bicycling. Although the 21-year-old driver had been convicted of five moving violations during a short period of time prior to the crash, police blamed Shamoon based on the driver’s version of events. Shamoon’s family demanded that the DMV hold a safety hearing to review the driver’s license, but the DMV refused to do so, stating:

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NYC Motorists Have Killed Five Pedestrians and One Cyclist in 10 Days

At least five pedestrians and one cyclist have been killed by motorists since November 15. Of the six drivers involved, four left the scene. Of the four who were either caught by NYPD or remained at the scene, only one has been charged for causing a death.

One three-hour span on Monday was especially violent. At 6:50 p.m., the driver of a BMW sedan struck 57-year-old Robert Perry on the Bowery near Rivington Street on the Lower East Side. ”The car kept going until it crashed into a fire hydrant a block away at Stanton Street,” reported DNAinfo.

The driver who killed Mohammad Uddin, 14, in Kensington was only charged with leaving the scene. Photo via DNAinfo

The driver who killed Mohammad Uddin, 14, in Kensington was only charged with leaving the scene. Photo via DNAinfo

Perry, who often stayed at the Bowery Mission, was pronounced dead at Lower Manhattan Hospital, according to DNAinfo. Police charged Danny Lin, 24, with homicide and leaving the scene.

Council Member Margaret Chin, who represents the district where Perry was killed, issued a statement Tuesday:

I was encouraged to learn this morning from an NYPD official that the driver who hit and killed Mr. Perry — and who apparently unsuccessfully tried to drive away — was arrested at the scene for criminally negligent homicide by NYPD officers. However, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office will of course still need to file charges against the driver for there to be a real step toward justice in this case. I will be contacting the DA’s office very soon to strongly advocate for the driver to be charged and held fully accountable for this incident.

As of Wednesday morning, Lin’s name did not appear in an online database of court records, though active cases are not always accessible to the public.

“Everyone [at the Mission] knows him,” witness Indio Bryan told DNAinfo. “This has been his home. He eats here, sleeps here. He was a good guy, harmless. He liked jazz a lot.”

Perry was at least the fifth fourth pedestrian to be killed by a motorist this year in the 5th Precinct, where ticketing cyclists is a top priority.

“Mr. Perry’s name must be remembered alongside Sui Leung, Sau Ying Lee and other traffic victims in Lower Manhattan and across the city who simply did not deserve to have their lives ended in this tragic manner,” said Chin. “My thoughts are also with the friends and family of Shan Zheng, the cyclist who was hit and killed by a car last night just outside my district in Lower Manhattan.”

Approximately three hours after Perry was killed, a livery cab driver hit Zheng, 61, as he rode on Pitt Street at E. Houston. Zheng, who lived in Ossining, was pronounced dead at Bellevue, according to the Journal News. NYPD filed no charges against the 50-year-old cab driver, whose name was not released. The crash occurred in the 7th Precinct, in the City Council district represented by Rosie Mendez.

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