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Manhattan DA Cy Vance Won’t Prosecute Cab Driver Who Killed 9-Year-Old

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance will file no criminal charges against the cab driver who killed 9-year-old Cooper Stock and injured his father in an Upper West Side crosswalk in January.

Cooper Stock. Photo: Barron Lerner via ##http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/24/treat-reckless-driving-like-drunk-driving/##New York Times##

Cooper Stock. Photo: Barron Lerner via New York Times

Lisa Belkin of Yahoo News reports that prosecutors met Wednesday with Cooper’s parents, Richard Stock and Dana Lerner.

“They told me there is nothing in the law right now that specifies that he can be charged with any crime,” Lerner said, describing the meeting. Under New York law, criminal charges can only be brought if a driver who injures or kills a pedestrian commits two misdemeanors at a time. Because the driver, Koffi Komlani, was charged with “failure to yield” but nothing else, he will face a penalty of up to $300 and three points on his license.

First, the “rule of two” is an arbitrary standard that holds that a New York State motorist who is breaking at least two traffic laws at the time of a crash may be charged with criminal negligence. It has no statutory basis, and as a candidate for DA in 2009, Vance pledged to challenge the precedent in court.

Here is a passage that used to appear on a now-defunct page on Vance’s campaign web site:

There is no reason why two traffic violations are necessary in order to support a conviction of criminally negligent homicide. I view the “Rule of Two” as the result of case law which should be modified to reflect the reality that one vehicular crime is fully capable of killing. Although in recent years this notion has been applied by the courts in a less strict manner — it is indisputable that it does not take two violations to kill someone. Many violations — speeding, running a red light, or failing to stop at a stop sign are more than dangerous enough to take a life.

So why did Vance decline to pursue charges for this vehicular killing? As was the case when Vance failed to prosecute the cab driver who severed the leg of a Midtown tourist, the public is left to guess. “A spokesman for the DA’s office said that the agency does not comment on investigations or charges that are not brought,” Belkin reports.

Instead, Vance’s office referred to testimony it provided to the City Council in February: “It can be difficult for people to understand why a crash that seriously injures or kills someone is not always a crime. The reality is that often these cases do not meet the complicated legal requirements for criminal charges.”

It is difficult to understand why Vance is not prosecuting sober reckless drivers who injure, maim, and kill, especially since he refuses to say.

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Brooklyn DA Secures Rare Manslaughter Conviction for Pedestrian Death

In a rare case of an apparently sober motorist facing serious penalties for a fatal crash, an unlicensed hit-and-run driver who killed one Brooklyn pedestrian and seriously injured another pled guilty to manslaughter this week.

Adam Recio pled guilty to manslaughter for the death of Raul De La Cruz (pictured). Possible sentences range from probation to 15 years in prison.

Raul De La Cruz and an unidentified woman were crossing Borinquen Place near Keap Street in Williamsburg at around 5 a.m. on November 15, 2012, when Adam Recio hit them with a Chevrolet Malibu, according to published reports. The victims were thrown into another lane of traffic and were hit by a second driver.

From the Daily News:

They had gotten halfway [across Borinquen Place] and were waiting in the striped area between the yellow lines in the center when the eastbound Chevy, which was trying to pass another vehicle, slammed into them, police said.

“In 30 years of driving I’ve never seen anything like this,” said truck driver Miguel Bocourt, 57. “The guy was going so fast. He was like a bat out of hell.”

De La Cruz “went flying up in the air,” said Bocourt.

De La Cruz, a beloved local figure and 35-year-old father of two young girls, died at the scene. The second victim, then 24, was hospitalized with serious injuries.

With a mangled hood and half the windshield gone, the Malibu was found abandoned five blocks away. Police later arrested Recio, then 27. The driver of the second vehicle was not charged.

Recio was charged by former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes with manslaughter, homicide, assault, reckless endangerment, leaving the scene, reckless driving, and driving without a license. According to court records, on Monday Recio pled guilty to manslaughter, a class C felony with possible sentences ranging from probation to 15 years in prison.

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Accused Unlicensed Hit-and-Run Killer on Trial in Brooklyn

A motorist who authorities say had a history of driving offenses and was driving without a license when he fatally struck a Brooklyn senior and fled the scene two years ago is on trial this week.

Isabel Rodriguez. Photo via Daily News

Wayne Stokeling is on trial this week for the hit-and-run killing of Isabel Rodriguez (pictured). New York State has a history of handing down light sentences to drivers who leave people to die in the street. Photo via Daily News

Isabel Rodriguez, 88, was walking with her 79-year-old sister on July 22, 2012, when Wayne Stokeling drove into her at Stone and Livonia Avenues in Brownsville, according to reports.

From the Daily News:

Cops spotted Stokeling’s BMW sedan a few blocks away from the crash with dents and a cracked windshield. He claimed the dents were caused by potholes, but was arrested for leaving the scene of a fatal accident and driving without a license.

He had an open warrant on a prior motor vehicle-related charge and four prior arrests, officials said.

“We were crossing the street,” Laura Chico, the victim’s sister, told the News. “I was calling, ‘Be careful, be careful.’ A car came fast and hit her when it turned. I went to her. I said, ‘Are you alive?’ I saw she was bleeding. I started crying.”

Rodriguez, a native of Puerto Rico, was already planning her 90th birthday party, which would have taken place this year, relatives said.

Stokeling, then 50, told police he was eating ice cream while driving and didn’t notice he’d hit anyone.

Court records say the top charge against Stokeling, filed by former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, was leaving the scene. Despite the circumstances of the case, Stokeling was not charged with homicide for killing Isabel Rodriguez.

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DA Ken Thompson Won’t Say When DWI Killer Might Drive Again [Updated]

The office of Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson won’t talk about reported developments in the case of a defendant who avoided a homicide charge after killing a pedestrian while driving drunk.

Roxana Gomez

Eric Nesmith hit Roxana Gomez at Flatbush Avenue and St. Marks Avenue with a BMW sedan just after midnight on July 5, 2013, according to witness accounts and the Post. Gomez, 27, suffered massive head injuries. She died on July 10.

The Post reported that Nesmith, then 25, of Newark, had a BAC of .126 — the legal limit for driving is .08 — and ”admitted to cops he had consumed up to six Coronas” while celebrating Independence Day before the crash. FDNY first responders said he was speeding. But Nesmith was not charged with homicide by former Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes or Thompson, who unseated Hynes in last year’s election.

Nesmith pled guilty to operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, an unclassified misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of a year in jail, three years probation, and a $1,000 fine. On April 8, Judge Raymond Rodriguez sentenced him to three years probation and a $500 fine, with no jail time, according to court records. Nesmith’s license was suspended for six months, the default penalty prescribed by state law.

Less than two weeks later, on April 21, Nesmith appeared in court for violating his probation, according to WebCrims, an online portal provided by the New York State Unified Court System. On April 24, court records say, his license was revoked.

On Friday, April 25, Streetsblog called Thompson’s office to confirm that the information posted on WebCrims was correct and, if so, to find out what Nesmith did to violate his probation. We were told to send an email to Sheila Stainback, Thompson’s communications director. Within half an hour, Stainback replied: “We’ll get back to you.”

Stainback emailed twice more that day. “FYI — you have inaccurate information, as there is no probation violation,” she wrote. The second email read: “I don’t know from where WebCrims receives it’s info, but it’s inaccurate on this matter.” Stainback said she would send us a “formal response” by Monday, April 27.

That response never came. Streetsblog followed up with Stainback by email on May 1, and asked if we should expect answers to our questions. “I do have a response,” Stainback replied. “Swamped right now — is tomorrow okay?” We wrote back that a response the following day would be fine, but Stainback didn’t contact us again.

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Vance Brings Rare Murder Charge Against Driver Who Killed Man on Sidewalk

Last June, according to prosecutors, 33-year-old Shaun Martin, under the influence of alcohol and drugs, got behind the wheel of a Nissan Altima and began speeding down Second Avenue in the East Village. At 4th Street, he veered across three lanes of traffic, jumped the curb and slammed into four people, including florist Mohammed Akkas Ali, who came out of a coma but later died, reportedly after removing his breathing tube.

Mohammed Akkas Ali, who died after a curb-jumping driver now facing murder charges crashed in the East Village. Photo via Daily News

Mohammed Akkas Ali was killed by a curb-jumping driver who now faces a murder charge. Photo via Daily News

Now, Martin has been charged with second-degree murder for Ali’s death, along with aggravated vehicular homicide, vehicular assault, reckless endangerment, driving while impaired by drugs, and other charges. Court documents say Martin, who according to DNAinfo has prior arrests for drunk driving and cocaine possession, was high on PCP and alcohol at the time of the crash. Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance announced the charges this afternoon.

“The death of Mohammed Akkas Ali is a tragedy that could have been averted,” Vance said in a press release. “Intoxicated driving, whether by drugs or alcohol, is completely at odds with the prospect of making New York streets safe for pedestrians and drivers alike.”

Murder charges for traffic killings are rare, and prosecutors usually only apply them to impaired drivers or drivers fleeing police.

In 2011, Vance reduced second-degree murder charges against a driver fleeing police to a manslaughter plea, reportedly after the state’s highest court reversed a conviction in a similar case. The next year, another driver fleeing police pled guilty to a second-degree murder charge brought by Vance and received a sentence of 17 years to life in prison.

Because the driver in this case was impaired and his behavior was so extreme, the charges could stick. Last year, the state’s top court upheld the murder convictions of impaired drivers who displayed “depraved indifference for human life,” which is the standard that will be used in court to weigh Martin’s murder charge.

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Driver Who Killed Bronx Pedestrian Pleads to Leaving Scene

A hit-and-run motorist who killed a Bronx pedestrian in a 2013 crash pled guilty last week to leaving the scene, but could be sentenced to as little as probation.

Abigail Lino. Photo via DNAinfo

Harlem resident Abigail Lino, 24, was outside a Bruckner Avenue club in Longwood at around 3 a.m. last August 31, reports said, when a security guard warned that someone had a gun and she and others went running.

She was hit in the street by Leroy Forest, who was driving “a speeding silver SUV,” according to the Daily News:

Witnesses said Lino’s body was thrown in the air by the callous driver before she came to rest in the center of the street. The driver sped off into the early morning darkness, police said.

“It’s hard to think about … we had just been inside having a good time. It’s really hard to believe,” said Ayalla Ingram, 24, who was walking with Lino moments before the accident.

“The car didn’t even slow down,” Taylor added. “It actually looked like it sped up (after it hit her).”

Lino worked for UPS and was a caregiver for her then-20-year-old sister, who has Down syndrome. She was also raising the young child of an ex, according to reports.

Forest, of the Bronx, was arrested the day after the crash. According to court records, Forest pled guilty on May 1 to leaving the scene of an accident resulting in injury, a class D felony punishable by up to seven years in jail, and which also allows for no jail time, or probation.

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Driver Who Killed Cyclist Sues the Dead Teen’s Parents

In a case the Ottawa Citizen called “astonishing evidence of the raw appeal of… victimhood,” a woman who struck and killed a teenage boy riding his bike outside of Toronto is suing the boy’s family for $1.35 million.

Brandon Majewski was 17 when he was killed in a collision with an SUV. The driver is now suing his family. Photo: National Post

Brandon Majewski was 17 when he was killed by an SUV driver. The driver is now suing his family. Photo: National Post

The driver, Sharlene Simon, is seeking compensation for the ”great pain and suffering” she has sustained since killing Majewski with her SUV, as well as “a severe shock to her system” and lessening of “her enjoyment of life,” her lawyers wrote in the suit, filed in an Ontario court.

Simon struck 17-year-old Brandon Majewski and his two 16-year-old friends in October 2012, killing Majewski and badly injuring another boy. The three were riding home from a coffee shop on a Saturday night on rural Innisfil Beach Road, about 50 miles north of Toronto.

“I think it’s very cruel,” said Brandon’s father, Derek Majewski, of the lawsuit. Derek said Brandon’s death was devastating for his family. Brandon’s grief-stricken brother, Devon, died six months later after consuming a combination of alcohol and prescription drugs.

No charges were filed against Simon, after local police concluded that limited visibility was the main cause of the collision, and that the boys had only “minimal reflectors” and were wearing dark-colored clothes. The fact that the boys weren’t wearing helmets and were riding abreast were also cited by police officers in their report, despite being wholly legal.

The victims’ families are suing Simon and Simcoe County, where the crash occurred, for $900,000. The suit alleges Simon was “speeding, under the influence or texting” at the time of the crash and that her husband, a police officer in nearby York, should have prevented her from driving. The Majewski family has also charged that the investigation by local police was biased against the boys.

As for Simon’s countersuit, Lloyd Alter at Treehugger wrote that it “may just be a smart legal tactic.”

“Or,” he added, “it might just be totally disgusting.”

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Wrist Slap for DWI Killer After Brooklyn DAs Decline to Charge Homicide

A convicted drunk driver was sentenced this week to probation, a nominal fine, and a six-month license suspension for killing a Brooklyn pedestrian.

Roxana Gomez

Shortly after midnight on July 5, 2013, 27-year-old Roxana Gomez was walking at Flatbush Avenue and St. Marks Avenue when Eric Nesmith hit her with a BMW sedan, according to witness accounts and the Post. Gomez, a Columbia grad student who worked for the human rights group MADRE, suffered massive head injuries and was administered CPR by an emergency room nurse who lived near the scene. She died on July 10.

The Post reported that Nesmith, then 25, of Newark, had a BAC of .126 — far above the .08 legal limit for driving — and ”admitted to cops he had consumed up to six Coronas” while celebrating Independence Day before the crash. FDNY first responders said he was speeding. Yet Nesmith was not charged with homicide by former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes or his successor Ken Thompson.

“An accident reconstruction expert concluded that alcohol was not a contributing factor in the death of the pedestrian in this case,” a spokesperson for Thompson’s office told Streetsblog in January.

Through a legal aid attorney, Nesmith pled guilty to operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, an unclassified misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of a year in jail, three years probation, and a $1,000 fine. On Tuesday, Judge Raymond Rodriguez sentenced him to three years probation and fined him $500, with no jail time, according to court records.

For killing Roxana Gomez while driving drunk, Eric Nesmith had his license suspended for six months, the default penalty mandated by state law, and six months with an interlock ignition device installed on his car.

Outrageous as it is, the outcome of this case is not at all unusual. New York State law and the courts effectively favor DWI killers. To get a vehicular homicide conviction, prosecutors must prove that impairment caused a motorist to operate a vehicle in a manner that caused death. Due to the vagaries of state code, this burden of proof is often insurmountable, and it is therefore common for NYC prosecutors to decline to bring homicide charges against drunk drivers who kill pedestrians.

Nesmith is due back in court in June.

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NYPD Denies Access to Confiscated Bikes, Including Those of Crash Victims

street_justice2

As seasoned observers of the department’s dealings with bicyclists know, NYPD has long enjoyed taking our bikes. Following the 2004 Republican National Convention, NYPD clipped locks and took bikes of persons suspected of associating with Critical Mass, resulting in a successful federal lawsuit that enjoined the practice as a constitutional violation. During a 2010 visit to New York by President Obama, NYPD without notice confiscated bikes wholesale along the president’s route, failing to tag the bikes and making it extremely difficult for their owners to reclaim them. Now, NYPD has taken things to the next level by shuttering its bike pound for a year and a half, and refusing to allow owners to claim their bicycles indefinitely.

The problem came to light during efforts by the Lefevre family to retrieve the bicycle of fatal crash victim Mathieu Lefevre. [Disclosure: Steve Vaccaro of Vaccaro & White is counsel to the Lefevre family.] NYPD has moved to quash a court-ordered subpoena to produce the bicycle Lefevre rode the night he was killed. This comes on the heels of well-documented foot-dragging by the NYPD in failing to respond to the Lefevres’ requests for information in the immediate aftermath of their son’s death, drawing extensive press attention, from Streetsblog to the New York Times. The Lefevres ultimately sued the NYPD to get the investigative documents to which they were entitled, resulting in judicial criticism that NYPD “needlessly delayed handing over documents and other materials” in a manner “agonizing” to the family.

In this latest example of NYPD stonewalling, the Lefevres issued a subpoena to the NYPD to produce the bike for use as evidence against the driver. The Lefevres’ papers state that the bike is needed to reconstruct the manner in which the crash occurred, and to test the driver’s claim that he was unaware that he had struck Lefevre when he left the scene of the crash. A picture of the bicycle taken by police the night of the crash shows extensive damage:

HWY_1483

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Bronx DWI Pedestrian Killer Gets 90 Days and Six-Month License Suspension

A judge sentenced a convicted drunk driver to just 90 days in jail and a six-month license suspension for killing a pedestrian in the Bronx.

Thomas Riley, 23, was crossing East Fordham Road near Bathgate Avenue at around 4:20 a.m. on March 20, 2011, when 48-year-old Seth Johnson struck and killed him with a minivan, according to a Post story published the day after the crash.

Victim Thomas Riley and his son Julien. Photo via Daily News

Victim Thomas Riley and his son Julien. Photo via Daily News

Riley worked as a barber and had a young son. “My family is now torn apart because a drunk driver took his life away,” Riley’s sister told the Post.

Johnson was charged by Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson with manslaughter, homicide, speeding, reckless driving, leaving the scene, and separate counts of driving while under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Last December a jury acquitted Johnson of manslaughter, homicide, and leaving the scene, finding him guilty on one count of driving drunk and one count of driving while impaired by drugs and alcohol.

“As a prosecutor, I accept the verdict of the jury,” Bronx vehicular crime chief Joe McCormack told Streetsblog after the trial. “We brought what we felt were appropriate charges, and we did the best we could trying the case.”

Johnson faced a year in jail, but on March 28, Judge Nicholas J. Iacovetta sentenced him to 90 days, three years probation, and $870 in fines, according to court records. His license was suspended for six months. So unless the New York State DMV takes action to keep him off the road, Johnson could driving again before long.

From the Daily News:

“He will be in jail for less than three months and I have to live with a life sentence,” the victim’s mother, Aurea Rivera, said after Bronx Supreme Court Justice Nicholas Iacovetta read the decision. “I want the laws changed so that no one else has to suffer like us.”

Rivera, joined in the courtroom by nearly a dozen friends and relatives, read a statement before the court and called on Mayor de Blasio and other elected officials to toughen vehicular manslaughter and drunk driving laws.

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