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Posts from the Traffic Justice Category

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No Charges for Cab Driver Who Killed Two People on Bronx Sidewalk

Image: News 12

NYPD and the TLC are withholding the name of the cab driver who hit four people on a Bronx sidewalk, killing two. No charges were filed. Image: News 12

No charges have been filed against a cab driver who drove onto a sidewalk in the Bronx and killed a man and a young girl.

The crash happened at around 6:30 p.m. Friday. Reports say the 44-year-old driver, whose name is being withheld by NYPD and the Taxi and Limousine Commission, hit a parked car on a Grand Concourse service road, then crashed onto the sidewalk near a bus stop at E. 170th Street, about a block away, and ran over four people.

Kadeem Brown, 25, died at the scene. Five-year-old Tierre Clark died later at a hospital. A 55-year-old man and a 39-year-old woman, who according to some reports was Tierre’s mother, were hospitalized.

“The car came up driving on the sidewalk,” witness Ronald Luis told the Daily News. “After it hit the people, it hit the corner of the building and spun around. The whole front was smashed in.”

“On this side they were pressing on her chest — the little girl,” witness Raymond Fermin told WCBS. “I’m guessing also she couldn’t breathe. I wasn’t sure. The guy that was laying here on the floor — they weren’t giving him any treatment. I guess he was already gone.”

Photos and video footage from the scene show the heavily-damaged cab at rest against a building. WABC noted that there are cameras attached to a neighboring building.

No arrests were made and an investigation is ongoing, according to NYPD and the office of Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson. News 12 reported that police believed the driver was speeding. The Daily News said NYPD was looking into whether the driver “was having a medical episode.”

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Crash Victim Lawsuit: App Use by Uber Drivers Is Negligent and Illegal

Erin Sauchelli, who was seriously injured by an Uber driver while walking in Manhattan, has filed a lawsuit claiming the app Uber drivers use to respond to hails causes driver distraction in violation of New York State law. The driver, Aliou Diallo, killed Sauchelli’s boyfriend, Wesley Manning, in the collision, but he remains in good standing with the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission reinstated the license of the Uber driver who killed Wesley Mensing and injured Erin Sauchelli. Photo via New York Post

The Taxi and Limousine Commission reinstated the license of the Uber driver who killed Wesley Mensing and injured Erin Sauchelli. Photo via New York Post

Sauchelli and Mensing were crossing E. 62nd Street at Lexington Avenue last January 3 when Diallo drove into them with a Mercedes SUV. Mensing, 27, died at the scene. Sauchelli, 30, was hospitalized.

“The driver had accepted a trip and was en route to pick up his customers at the time of the accident and he did not have any passengers in the car,” Uber told Streetsblog after the crash.

Diallo was summonsed for driving without a license. The citation was dismissed two days later. Diallo was not charged criminally by NYPD or Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance for killing Mensing and injuring Sauchelli. The Taxi and Limousine Commission said Diallo’s license to drive a cab was suspended after the crash, but TLC records indicate it is currently valid. Diallo was also reinstated by Uber.

A suit filed by Sauchelli claims she was “a lawful pedestrian in the crosswalk” when she was struck, and that the crash was caused by negligence on the part of Diallo, vehicle owner Tea Bromberg, Malcolm Limo Express, Uber base Schmecken, and Uber, all of whom are named as defendants.

The suit says Diallo was speeding and disregarded a traffic signal. It claims Diallo broke state law that prohibits using an electronic device while driving, and that Uber “knew or should have known that the use of the Uber App by Uber Drivers, including but not limited to” Diallo was a violation of state code intended “to protect individuals from injury and death due to driver distraction and driver inattentiveness.”

“Mr. Diallo was driving an Uber car, en route to pick up a passenger at the time of this accident,” said Robert A. Sgarlato, Sauchelli’s attorney, in a statement emailed to Streetsblog. “We believe that this particular stage in the ‘Uber Car process’ leads to a toxic combination of Uber Drivers that are both hurried to pick up passengers, and distracted by the influx of information coming from the Uber application.”

Uber declined comment on the lawsuit.

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Working Families Party: Let’s Allow Bus Drivers to Run Over Working Families

The Working Families Party says it supports the City Council bill to exempt MTA bus drivers from the Right of Way Law, but its position is based on a misreading of the law and the premise that bus drivers, in the course of doing their jobs, should be allowed to strike people who have the right of way.

An MTA bus driver ran over 15-year-old Jiahuan Xu as she crossed a Brooklyn street in a crosswalk with the walk signal, causing severe injuries. The Working Families Party thinks the bus driver was the victim.

The Working Families Party thinks a misdemeanor charge was not warranted for the MTA bus driver who ran over 15-year-old Jiahuan Xu as she crossed a Brooklyn street in a crosswalk with the walk signal, causing severe injuries.

Last year, bus drivers killed eight people who were walking with the right of way. In a memo of support released Wednesday, the WFP claims that since bus drivers must negotiate “intersections teeming with pedestrians,” they should be excused for “accidents that are unrelated to reckless driver behavior.”

The WFP memo says a clause in the law meant to apply to drivers of emergency vehicles in emergency situations should also apply to bus drivers:

When the NYC Council created Vision Zero, it rightly wrote in an exception for drivers of municipal vehicles who, to fulfill their duties, are required to enter crosswalks where cyclists and pedestrian [sic] have the right of way. The exception does not apply if the driver acts recklessly.

The law was not designed for the purpose of punishing conscientious bus operators who are forced to operate repeatedly in dangerous circumstances. Therefore, New York Working Families rejects the notion that accidents not resulting from recklessness are criminal acts.

The law was designed to protect people crossing the street from motorist negligence, since violations of pedestrians’ right of way account for thousands of injuries and dozens of deaths in New York City every year. It’s clear that bus drivers were never intended to be exempt — if an MTA driver injures someone with the right of way after failing to exercise due care, a misdemeanor charge is warranted.

The Working Families Party and the Transport Workers Union are saying that bus drivers must injure people through outright recklessness, not negligence, to be charged. “The recklessness standard proposed for bus drivers by WFP and TWU is reserved for police involved in chases and others responding to emergencies,” said Steve Vaccaro, an attorney who specializes in traffic law. “The notion that bus drivers belong in the same category is misguided, to say the least.”

The Right of Way Law was adopted so NYPD could hold motorists accountable for causing injury and death in crashes that police didn’t personally witness. Charges are based on witness testimony, video footage, and other evidence of carelessness. The law was proposed in Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero Action Plan, and the mayor’s office has defended it against attacks from the TWU and the Daily News, which ramped up after bus drivers were charged with misdemeanors for killing and maiming people.

The WFP memo pays lip service to crash victims and proposes a nebulous “review of all of the issues affecting bus mass transit and pedestrian accidents.” But the thrust of the WFP argument is that bus drivers have to run people over while on the job, and the rest of us just have to accept that.

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DMV Suspends License of Driver Who Killed Mathieu Lefevre for Six Months

The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles found the truck driver who killed Brooklyn cyclist Mathieu Lefevre responsible for the collision and suspended his driver’s license for six months.

Mathieu Lefevre. Photo by Chieu-Anh Le Van via Support Justice for Mathieu Lefevre

Leonardo Degianni’s DMV safety hearing took place on March 2, three-and-a-half years after he hit Lefevre at the intersection of Morgan Avenue and Meserole Street. At around midnight on October 19, 2011, Degianni was driving a crane truck, traveling in the same direction as Lefevre, when he struck Lefevre while making a right turn. Degianni did not stop at the scene, and was identified after police found the truck parked a block away.

After initially blaming Lefevre for the crash, NYPD summonsed Degianni for failing to signal and careless driving, but DMV dismissed the tickets. Degianni, who told police he didn’t know he had run Lefevre over, was not charged criminally by NYPD or former Brooklyn district attorney Charles Hynes.

DMV administrative law judge Marc Berger announced his findings from the hearing on March 6 [PDF]. Based on video evidence and testimony from NYPD Detective Gerard Sheehan, who investigated the crash, Berger determined Degianni did not signal his turn and failed to use his mirrors. “Had he signaled 100 feet prior to turning, as required under VTL section 1163(b), Mr. Lefevre would have been alerted, before he even reached the truck, and been able to protect himself by taking evasive action,” Berger wrote.

Berger found that in addition to failing to signal, Degianni failed to exercise due care. “These violations contributed to the accident and warrant taking action against the license and/or driving privileges of the respondent,” Berger wrote.

Berger’s ruling was posted on a new DMV web page that lists hearings resulting from fatal crashes.

In New York State, a license suspension means a motorist can pay a fee and get his license back after the prescribed period — 180 days in Degianni’s case. While it’s technically not as serious as a revocation, which requires a driver to re-apply for a license, a six-month suspension is notable for the DMV, which has a history of going easy on motorists who kill people.

Steve Vaccaro, attorney for the Lefevre family, said in a statement:

On behalf of the families we represent who have lost loved ones in crashes, I welcome the DMV’s decision and process. Mr. Degianni’s 180-day suspension is one of the most serious sanctions to be applied to a sober, reckless driver in a fatal New York City crash in recent memory. The DMV’s new practice of announcing safety hearing results online is also a welcome step for the agency towards greater transparency and accountability.

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With Traffic Deaths Trending Downward, Lancman Attacks Right of Way Law

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton told the City Council today that NYC traffic fatalities have continued to drop in 2015, but not every council member is pleased with the city’s recent steps to deter dangerous driving.

Rory Lancman

In testimony to the public safety committee, Bratton said traffic deaths were down 43 percent as of mid-February, though he didn’t give exact figures or dates. NYPD collision data from January show overall fatalities were down 38 percent compared to January 2014, and pedestrian and cyclist deaths decreased by 46 percent compared to last year. Injuries to pedestrians and cyclists also declined relative to 2014. NYPD didn’t release January data until March, so February data likely won’t be available to the public for a few weeks.

This is too small a sample to draw hard conclusions. But it could be an indication that NYC’s speed camera program, coupled with NYPD enforcement of speeding and failure to yield — which is inconsistent among precincts but trending upward overall — is paying dividends.

Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan said enforcement of the Right of Way Law, which made it a misdemeanor for drivers to harm someone with the right of way, continues to be limited to the Collision Investigation Squad, as the department is still developing a protocol for precinct officers to apply it. Council Member Rory Lancman, who in February asked Chan how police determine whether a driver who failed to yield also failed to exercise due care, again questioned whether NYPD is applying the law correctly.

“I get it that you’re formulating a procedure for the rest of the force, but you’re arresting people now,” Lancman said. “And so those arrests need to be done in conformance with the law, which requires not merely failure to yield, but also the failure to exercise due care. So for the group of officers, the CIS team, that are authorizing those arrests, what standards are they applying to whether or not somebody not just failed to yield, but also failed to exercise due care?”

Chan laid out the procedure. “What happens is that the CIS officers and investigators will conduct a thorough investigation, and taking a look at the totality of the evidence, whether it be video tape, an interview with witnesses, the right of way of the pedestrian who was crossing at the time, and doing a full investigation and taking all those circumstances into consideration,” he said. “And if we do find that the individual failed to use due care when they struck the pedestrian in the crosswalk, then they will make the arrest for that particular violation.”

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Driver Who Killed 9-Year-Old on Sidewalk Can Regain License in 5 Years

New York Court of Appeals Judges Jenny Rivera, Sheila Abdus-Salaam, Robert S. Smith, Susan P. Reid, and Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman are making it easier for reckless drivers to get away with killing people

New York Court of Appeals Judges Jenny Rivera, Sheila Abdus-Salaam, Eugene Pigott, Susan P. Read, and Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman.

The driver who ran over two children on a Brooklyn sidewalk, killing 9-year-old Lucian Merryweather and injuring his 4-year-old brother, will serve no jail time and be eligible to legally drive again in five years, pursuant to a plea arrangement with Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson.

Thompson’s lead vehicular crimes prosecutor cited case law precedent from the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, as one reason the DA’s office did not seek a more severe penalty.

On the afternoon of November 2, 2013, Anthony Byrd hit two cars and a building after swerving to avoid two people in a crosswalk at DeKalb and Clermont Avenues. He next made a U-turn and drove against traffic on DeKalb, struck a woman in a crosswalk, hit a parked vehicle, and drove onto the sidewalk a second time, striking Lucian and his brother. Lucian died at the scene.

Byrd was charged by former DA Charles Hynes with second degree assault, criminally negligent homicide, first and second degree reckless endangerment, criminal mischief, and several traffic infractions. However, Byrd was indicted on a top charge of homicide — a class E felony, the least severe felony category — and the class D second degree assault charge was reduced to misdemeanor assault, according to court records.

The Daily News reports that prosecutors and Byrd agreed to a plea of five years probation, 20 days of community service, and a five-year license revocation. The News reported that Lucian’s family did not object to the agreement.

Though Byrd pinballed through neighborhood streets, killing one bystander and injuring two others, Brooklyn vehicular crimes chief Craig Esswein said he didn’t have a strong case.

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No Word on Whether Trucker Who Killed Mathieu Lefevre Will Keep License

More than three years after the crash, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles held a hearing today to determine whether to take action against the truck driver who killed cyclist Mathieu Lefevre. But Lefevre’s family will have to wait on a DMV decision.

Mathieu Lefevre. Photo by Chieu-Anh Le Van via Support Justice for Mathieu Lefevre

Lefevre, 30, was killed just after midnight on October 19, 2011, while riding his bike on Morgan Avenue in Brooklyn. As Lefevre approached the intersection of Morgan and Meserole Street, Leonardo Degianni, who was driving a 28-ton crane truck and traveling in the same direction as Lefevre, ran over Lefevre while turning right. Degianni did not stop at the scene, and was identified as the driver after police found the truck parked a block away.

It took a lawsuit and a lot of well-earned negative publicity for NYPD to share information about the crash with Lefevre’s family. NYPD concluded Degianni was unaware he struck Lefevre based on video of the crash. Detective Gerard Sheehan, the crash investigator assigned to the case, also apportioned some blame to Lefevre in his report. Though Degianni did not signal before turning and Lefevre was riding legally, Sheehan said Lefevre “should not have been passing on the right side.”

Lefevre’s family asked Charles Hynes, then the Brooklyn district attorney, to review the case, but Hynes declined to press charges. Degianni was eventually ticketed for failing to signal and careless driving, but the DMV threw out the tickets.

At this morning’s “safety hearing,” DMV administrative law judge Marc Berger heard testimony from Sheehan, who basically repeated the conclusions contained in the NYPD crash report. Berger also reviewed video of the crash, and accepted photos of the scene as evidence.

Berger questioned Sheehan on key details, such as the number and position of the mirrors on the truck, and whether in Sheehan’s opinion Degianni should have known he hit a person on a bicycle. Sheehan at one point indicated he believed Degianni should have seen Lefevre, had he used his mirrors properly, but said police could not determine if Degianni had passed Lefevre prior to the collision. Though the investigation found Degianni made contact with Lefevre on the driver’s side of the truck, Sheehan said drivers of large vehicles often say they didn’t detect running someone over.

Berger did not render a decision today.

Today’s proceeding was a vast improvement over the 2014 hearing when Berger asked the driver who killed Brooklyn pedestrian Clara Heyworth for his analysis of the crash scene. But the DMV adjudication process is still biased to favor motorists who kill people.

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Rory Lancman Worried NYPD Charging Too Many Drivers for Injuring People

This is pretty rich. In a city where hundreds of people get hurt by drivers who fail to yield each month, City Council Member Rory Lancman is concerned that police are “overapplying” the new Right of Way Law, which has been used all of 20 times since August.

Rory Lancman

In a February 17 letter to NYPD traffic chief Thomas Chan [PDF], Lancman asked how police determine whether to file misdemeanor charges or issue a civil penalty under the new law, and how they are trained to make that call:

Clearly the failure to yield alone is insufficient to support a charge under the law unless the “failure to yield and/or physical injury” was “caused by the driver’s failure to exercise due care.”

As it happens, Bill de Blasio touched on this subject in his testimony to the State Senate last week. Here’s his explanation of how NYPD applies the “due care” standard — basically, if officers determine that the crash could have been avoided, they will file charges:

Senator, the law that was passed by the City Council, which I signed, makes clear that when an individual fails to yield to pedestrians where they should — the pedestrian has the walk sign and they’re crossing the street and there’s still a crash, and in this case, what the law dictates is, if there is serious injury or fatality and if the officers on the scene determine that it was an avoidable injury or fatality, they are obligated to pursue an arrest. If the officers determine that it was unavoidable, meaning something happened that no driver could have possibly foreseen or responded to in time, they have the option of giving a summons… If the officer believes it was 100 percent avoidable, that is an arrest situation.

Officers with the Collision Investigation Squad are trained to determine whether a driver should have avoided a crash. Only about 20 investigators work at CIS — not enough to handle all of the failure-to-yield collisions in the city. Last October, Chan told Streetsblog that NYPD is looking to train precinct cops how to enforce the new law as well, and that the department is being very deliberate about implementing a clear standard:

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Parents of Seth Kahn: Ineffective MTA Protocols Contributed to Son’s Death

After Wednesday’s MTA board meeting transit chief Tom Prendergast said the agency may revise bus routes to reduce the number of turns bus drivers have to make, in order to minimize conflicts between buses and pedestrians, according to the Daily News. Prendergast said another possibility would be to move crosswalks away from intersections where buses make turns, which would necessitate streetscape changes by DOT.

Seth Kahn

Seth Kahn

Whether or not these ideas pan out, it’s good that the MTA is seriously engaging in the Vision Zero discussion. Bus drivers killed eight people in crosswalks last year, and there’s no evidence that admonishing people to stay out of the way of buses will reduce crashes.

The MTA didn’t really come to the table until several bus drivers were charged under the Right of Way Law for maiming and killing pedestrians. But some City Council members want to rescind the protection to pedestrians and cyclists the law provides. Council Member Daneek Miller’s bill to exempt MTA bus drivers from the Right of Way Law has picked up 14 co-sponsors.

Miller and TWU Local 100 say the MTA’s internal protocols adequately ensure bus driver safety. That doesn’t jibe with the story of Seth Kahn, killed in 2009 by a speeding bus driver who was just back on the job after a suspension for texting behind the wheel.

Driving a bus in New York City is a tough and stressful job, and most drivers do it well. That doesn’t mean crashes are an inevitable cost of doing business, or that bus drivers can’t be reckless or negligent. The Daily News and the union have taken to using the phrase “criminalizing bus drivers,” but in fact the law does not single out bus drivers and only criminalizes negligence that leads to serious injury and death. Even Daily News reporter Pete Donohue, whose column has become a platform for TWU opposition to the law, slammed the MTA for failing to keep Seth Kahn’s killer out of the driver’s seat.

Debbie and Harold Kahn shared with Streetsblog their account of what happened to their son and the driver who took his life.

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Will DA Ken Thompson Drop Case Against Bus Driver Who Killed Senior?

On the evening of December 23, 2014, 78-year-old Jean Bonne-Annee was crossing New York Avenue at Farragut Road in Brooklyn when an MTA bus driver ran him over while making a left turn.

Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson

Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson

Bonne-Annee died at the scene. He was the eighth pedestrian killed by a turning MTA bus driver in 2014.

Police arrested driver Reginald Prescott and charged him with violating the Right of Way Law, which is intended to hold drivers accountable for killing or injuring pedestrians and cyclists who are following traffic rules.

Because Prescott was driving a bus and was charged for killing someone, TWU Local 100 and some members of the press have devoted much attention to a crash that otherwise would have received little or no notice. On Tuesday Pete Donohue of the Daily News reported that District Attorney Ken Thompson may bow to pressure from the TWU and dismiss the case.

Arraignment proceedings for Prescott were canceled, Donohue reported, “as prosecutors and his union defense lawyer agreed neither to go forward with a formal reading of the charges nor require Prescott to enter a plea, as is customary.”

“We pressed a pause button to say ‘stop’ with the view towards the district attorney ultimately dismissing the charges completely against Mr. Prescott,” TWU Local 100 legal director Kenneth Page said.

A spokeswoman for Brooklyn prosecutors would only say that the case remains under investigation. No new court date for Prescott was set during his appearance in court Tuesday morning.

“[T]he case is still being investigated and the charges have not been dropped,” a Thompson spokesperson told Streetsblog via email.

As Ben Fried wrote this week, before the Right of Way Law NYPD and prosecutors didn’t investigate the vast majority of serious traffic crashes, and declined to pursue charges in fatal collisions that did not involve extenuating circumstances like DWI or leaving the scene. The strength of the Right of Way Law is that it removes driver intent from the equation: If you harm someone who is walking or biking with the right of way, you committed a misdemeanor.

The court process may reveal that Prescott was not at fault. What shouldn’t be in doubt is a full and fair disposition of the case. Otherwise, people who are following all the rules will continue to be denied the protection of the law, as they were before.