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Posts from the "Traffic Justice" Category

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80-Year-Old Pedestrian and MTA Bus Driver Killed in Separate Crashes

Senior Margarita Seda was killed in the middle of the day by a driver making a left turn at at a signalized intersection with marked crosswalks. He was cited for careless driving and failure to yield. Image: Google Maps

Senior Margarita Seda was killed in the middle of the day by a driver making a left turn at a signalized intersection with marked crosswalks. The driver was cited for careless driving and failure to yield. The red arrow represents the movement of the driver and the white arrow the movement of the victim, according to reports. Image: Google Maps

In the last 24 hours, an 80-year-old pedestrian and an MTA bus driver were killed in crashes in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

At around 1:35 p.m. Tuesday, Margarita Seda was struck by the driver of a GMC vehicle as she crossed Grand Street at Graham Avenue in Williamsburg, according to WCBS and the Daily News. WCBS reported that Seda was crossing Grand north to south when the driver, traveling north on Graham, struck her while making a left turn onto Grand. Seda suffered head injuries and died at Bellevue Hospital.

The unnamed motorist was summonsed for careless driving and failure to yield to a pedestrian.

Grand Street and Graham Avenue are two-lane streets that meet at a signalized intersection, and there is strong evidence that the victim was in the crosswalk and had a walk signal, based on published reports and the fact that NYPD cited the driver. If it occurred as described, yesterday’s crash appears nearly identical to the one that killed Maude Savage, the 72-year-old who was hit by an unlicensed driver last November while crossing with the signal at Sutter and Euclid Avenues in East New York. The man who killed Savage was charged criminally, but only because he was driving without a license.

This type of crash is not rare. At least 30 NYC pedestrians and cyclists have been killed by turning motorists since January 2013, and for the most part the drivers were breaking the law by failing to yield. As we wrote after Savage’s death, that this deadly behavior does not apparently meet the standard of criminal negligence is a sign that New York’s criminal justice system is failing to hold drivers accountable for killing law-abiding pedestrians.

The crash that killed Margarita Seda occurred in the City Council district represented by Antonio Reynoso, and in the 90th Precinct, where in 2013 local officers cited 35 drivers for failing to yield to pedestrians, and wrote 311 speeding tickets.

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Will NYC Act to Get Deadly Cab Drivers Off the Streets? [Updated]

An analysis by the Post confirms that cab drivers who injure and kill pedestrians in NYC rarely face sanctions from the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

The cab driver who drove onto a Midtown sidewalk and severed the leg of tourist Sian Green still has a valid hack license. Photo: @BraddJaffy

The Post examined 16 serious crashes since 2009 and found that only two drivers had their hack licenses revoked. The cabbies who killed Timothy Keith and Cooper Stock and the driver who maimed Sian Green are among those who remain in good standing with the TLC.

The Post’s Freedom of Information Act request found that 874 hacks have had their license revoked since 2009 because of point accumulations — a tiny fraction of the 51,340 licensed cabbies in NYC.

License points can accumulate through NYPD summonses or consumer complaints. According to the Post, under current rules the TLC can suspend licenses for just 30 days when a cab driver has six or more license points, and can’t revoke a license until a driver has more than 10 points.

Summonses for failure to yield and running a red light add three points to a hack license, the Post reported, a reckless driving summons adds five points, and a ticket for driving from 31 to 40 miles per hour over the speed limit adds eight points. To reiterate: A cabbie who gets caught doing 70 through a city neighborhood would not necessarily lose his hack license.

When a cab driver killed senior Lori Stevens in the West Village in 2012, the TLC said that unless criminal charges are filed, or a consumer files a complaint, the agency has no lawful basis for action against a cabbie who harms a pedestrian.

“If they are specific to TLC rule violations, such as 54-15(1), ‘A driver must be courteous to passengers,’ the points are accrued through a similar program called ‘Persistent Violator,’” TLC spokesperson Allan Fromberg told Streetsblog today. “Here, too, six points results in a suspension, and 10 earns revocation.”

A 2004 study found that cab drivers are less crash-prone on a per-miles driven basis than other NYC motorists. But cab drivers injure and kill countless numbers of pedestrians and cyclists a year, and it is up to the city to protect the public by weeding out those who drive recklessly.

Fromberg told the Post “the agency is now exploring amending its rules so that a driver involved in a crash that kills or maims a pedestrian would have his license immediately suspended or revoked, pending an investigation of the crash.” It is not known if rule changes would require city or state legislative action, Fromberg said.

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One Month In, DA Thompson Charges Sober Driver With Manslaughter

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson has filed homicide and reckless driving charges against a sober driver who caused a violent crash in Crown Heights, killing another driver.

Ken Thompson. Photo: Daily News

Ken Thompson. Photo: Daily News

On January 6, Jermaine Filmore ran a red on Eastern Parkway and hit two other vehicles, according to WABC. One of those cars hit a fourth car and then caught fire. The driver of that vehicle, a Lincoln Town Car, was killed. Court records say Filmore was charged with manslaughter, homicide, reckless endangerment, and reckless driving, among other charges.

As we reported after the crash that killed Lucian Merryweather, while it is rare for prosecutors to file homicide charges against a sober driver, there seems to be a link between serious charges and more brazen forms of recklessness. It was not completely unheard of for the previous Brooklyn DA, Charles Hynes, to file a homicide charge after a fatal crash caused by a sober, red light-running motorist.

However, it’s encouraging to see Thompson handle a case like this so early in his tenure, and he has pledged to take traffic violence seriously. ”There’s all types of criminality that could be committed by somebody driving a vehicle that hits and kills someone,” Thompson told Streetsblog last November, noting that “criminality” means more than just leaving the scene and drunk or impaired driving. ”It’s not just fatalities. Beyond fatalities, somebody can be seriously injured, and not killed, but they still need justice.”

It’s too early to say if the Filmore case represents a real change in how the Brooklyn DA’s office approaches traffic crimes. An earlier case this year, in which a driver rear-ended another car, which then struck and killed 75-year-old pedestrian Xiaoci Hu, resulted in no charges. If Thompson is going to bring his office in line with the mayor’s Vision Zero goals, there should be consequences for reckless driving of all stripes.

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Angela Hurtado, 68, Killed in Queens by Unlicensed Driver Making Illegal Turn

As NYPD ramps up enforcement against pedestrians who cross mid-block and against the signal, a funeral was held last week for a senior struck in a crosswalk by an accused unlicensed driver making an illegal turn.

Angela Hurtado, 68, was crossing Grand Avenue in Maspeth at around 11:00 a.m. on January 18 when 28-year-old Abel Tinoco made an illegal left turn onto Grand from 69th Place, hitting her with an SUV, according to published reports. She died hours later from head trauma.

Angela Hurtado. Photo via Queens Chronicle

Angela Hurtado. Photo via Queens Courier

Hurtado came to the U.S. from Ecuador when she was 21, according to the Queens Courier. She was a cancer survivor and was working as a housekeeper at 3 World Trade Center on 9/11. Along with area residents, Hurtado’s daughter Zoraya B. Torres said the family wants changes at the intersection where her mother was struck, to prevent another crash.

“My mom was a very humble woman, a good-hearted person and a loving mother,” said Torres. “It’s hard to believe that something so horrible could have happened to her.”

Court records say Tinoco was charged only with third degree aggravated unlicensed operation, an unclassified misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Tinoco’s license had been suspended since last October, according to the criminal complaint filed by Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. The complaint did not specify the cause of the suspension.

State Senator Michael Gianaris has introduced a bill to make it a class E felony  to cause serious injury or death while driving without a valid license, so long as the license was suspended or revoked for traffic offenses. A second bill would require drivers with suspended or revoked licenses to surrender their vehicle registrations and license plates. Gianaris held a press conference Sunday at Grand Avenue and 69th Place, calling on Albany lawmakers to pass the bills.

Since Tinoco was driving without a license and made an illegal left turn when he struck Hurtado, he should have been prosecuted for a more serious offense under the so-called “rule of two,” 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.

City district attorneys often cite the rule of two as an obstacle to filing charges when a motorist is reported to have broken one traffic law, such as running a stop sign, before killing a pedestrian or cyclist, yet prosecutors routinely fail to adhere to the rule when a driver is accused of breaking two or more traffic laws at the time of a fatal crash.

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At Vigil for Ella Bandes, a Plea to Put an End to Traffic Violence


Yesterday, nearly 200 people gathered on the sidewalk at a busy intersection on the Brooklyn-Queens border to remember 23-year-old Ella Bandes and hundreds of other people who have lost their lives to NYC traffic since the start of last year. Victims’ families, advocates, medical professionals and elected officials called for slower speed limits and more serious consequences for dangerous drivers.

“It was the worst day of our lives,” Judy Kottick told the crowd, just feet from where her daughter Ella was killed by a turning MTA bus driver a year ago. “We do not want anyone else to experience this nightmare.”

Ella’s family was joined by others who lost children to traffic violence, including Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao, whose daughter Allison was killed by a turning driver in Flushing, Amy Cohen and Gary Eckstein, whose son Sammy was killed by a driver on Prospect Park West just days later, Marta Puruncajas, whose son Luis Bravo was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Woodside, and Joy Thompson, whose daughter Renee was killed by a turning truck driver on the Upper East Side.

“We need a paradigm shift in how drivers use our streets,” Cohen said. “Enforcement is essential.”

Dr. Kaushal Shah, an emergency medicine expert leading a study of pedestrian and cyclist injuries, emphasized that traffic fatalities must be reduced, not just dealt with after they happen. “Treatment is not the answer,” he said. “We need to prevent these injuries.”

The crossing where Ella was struck is a complex, multi-leg intersection where Myrtle Avenue crosses the rectangular grid intersection of Palmetto Street and Wyckoff Avenue. It is also the junction point for six bus routes, with stops for the elevated M train above and the L train below ground.

A 2007 DOT Ridgewood transportation study [PDF] found that the corner where Ella was killed had the neighborhood’s highest pedestrian volumes, with nearly 700 people per hour crossing during peak periods. The study also counted the hundreds of drivers making turns there, but while it analyzed crash data at nine intersections in the area, the intersection where Ella was later killed was not one of them.

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Barron Lerner: It’s Time to Treat Reckless Driving Like Drunk Driving

The most basic flaw in the New York State traffic justice system is that in most cases it fails to hold motorists accountable for deadly recklessness. Unless a motorist is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, killing someone with a car is usually not considered a crime.

Barron Lerner. Photo: ##http://medicine.med.nyu.edu/medhumanities/featured-writing/lerner-why-history-of-medicine##NYU##

Barron Lerner. Photo: NYU

In a column for the Times, Barron Lerner, whose 9-year-old nephew Cooper Stock was killed by a cab driver in Manhattan this month, says it’s time to treat reckless driving like drunk driving. “Reckless driving, circa 2014, is what drunk driving was prior to 1980: it is poorly defined in the law, sometimes poorly investigated by police and almost never results in a criminal charge,” he writes.

An NYU professor and author of “One for the Road: Drunk Driving Since 1900,” Lerner writes that today’s attitudes toward everyday recklessness resemble societal and legal norms during the decades when efforts to criminalize drunk driving were met with “cultural indifference.”

Well into the 1970s, police and prosecutors looked the other way, seeing drunk drivers either as diseased alcoholics, young men sowing their wild oats or, paradoxically, victims themselves, even if they killed or maimed people. Judges and juries — perhaps because they, too, secretly drank and drove or knew those who did — were reluctant to convict.

Police told family members that their loved ones — the actual victims — had been “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Crashes were called accidents.

This is, of course, exactly how law enforcement reacts to crashes like the one that killed Cooper Stock, who was in a crosswalk with his father when both were hit by a cab driver who reportedly took a turn without slowing down. No charges were filed against the driver, and no action was taken against his hack license.

“The police reassured my brother-in-law, Dr. Richard G. Stock, who was holding Cooper’s hand at the time of the crash, that a Breathalyzer done at the scene was negative,” Lerner writes. “Yet merely looking for alcohol or drug involvement by the driver misses the point.”

In the 80s, Lerner writes, collective action by parents and other loved ones, through groups like MADD, forced a “sea change” that brought about laws that toughened penalties and lowered legally acceptable blood alcohol levels. Their activism also attached a social stigma to driving drunk, making the public realize that “drunk drivers were still responsible for the damage they caused, even though the harms they inflicted were unintentional.”

Lerner says a similar shift is needed if New York City is to achieve Vision Zero. “If Cooper died because an impatient or distracted driver made a careless decision, then that driver should be as guilty of a crime as someone who drank alcohol or used drugs before driving,” he writes. “Let’s make destruction caused by irresponsible driving a true crime. And let’s do it soon.”

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Maude Savage and Akkas Ali, Struck by Motorists in 2013, Die From Injuries

The driver of this van barely slowed down as he turned into an occupied crosswalk, striking a senior. Image via Daily News. Video after the jump.

Charged for driving without a license, the maximum penalty against the motorist who fatally struck senior Maude Savage remains 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Image via Daily News

Maude Savage, the 72-year-old who was hit by a motorist in a Brooklyn crosswalk last November, died from her injuries. Though video showed Savage was crossing with the light, charges were not upgraded against the commercial driver who took a corner at speed, striking her a few feet from a grocery store she had just walked out of. After Savage’s death, the maximum penalty against the driver, who was charged the day of the crash with driving without a license, remains 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.

The crash occurred in the early afternoon of November 25 at Sutter and Euclid Avenues. In a security video, you could see Savage waiting for the pedestrian signal and looking both ways before stepping into the street. When she was midway across, the driver of a van covered in DirecTV logos entered the crosswalk, barely slowing as he made a left-hand turn. Savage tried to get out of his path, but the driver struck her with the front end of the van.

Robert Brown was charged by then-District Attorney Charles Hynes with third degree aggravated unlicensed operation, a misdemeanor that stipulates that he drove without a license when he knew or should have known he didn’t have one. He was also ticketed for failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

Reports in the aftermath of the crash said Savage was hospitalized with head injuries. Though several media outlets covered the crash itself — stories were pegged to the DirecTV angle, though Brown was not a DirecTV employee — we found no follow-up coverage. However, the NYPD November crash report recorded one crash at Euclid and Sutter that month, which resulted in one pedestrian fatality.

Several times in recent years, prosecutors have pursued third degree unlicensed operation, a low-level misdemeanor, as the top charge against unlicensed drivers who kill New York City pedestrians. In 2011, Yolanda Casal and Laurence Renard were fatally struck by unlicensed drivers in separate crashes in Manhattan. Casal and her daughter were hit by a recidivist reckless driver as he backed up to get a parking spot; Renard was hit by a dump truck driver on an Upper East Side corner. In each case, Manhattan DA Cy Vance accepted a guilty plea to third degree unlicensed operation, and each motorist was fined $500.

Brown is next scheduled to appear in court on March 5, according to online court records.

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84-Year-Old Jaywalker Could Get Jail While Deadly Drivers Get Off Scot-Free

Kang Wong, the 84-year-old pedestrian left bloodied during last weekend’s NYPD jaywalking crackdown, was arrested and charged by police. If convicted, Wong could get a jail term for an incident that stemmed from crossing the street without a walk signal. At the same time, the drivers who killed three pedestrians in the 24th precinct in the last two weeks face no criminal charges.

Kang Wong could get a year in jail for a jaywalking stop that resulted in his arrest. With nine pedestrians and a cyclist killed in 2014, no motorists were charged by NYPD or city DAs for taking a life. Photo: New York Post

Kang Wong could get a year in jail for a jaywalking stop that resulted in his arrest. With nine pedestrians and a cyclist killed in 2014, no motorists were charged by NYPD or city DAs with homicide or assault. Photo: Post

Wong was one of 18 pedestrians ticketed by the precinct over the weekend, according to WCBS. Five motorists were also summonsed for unknown violations. To put that in perspective, the 24th precinct ticketed 58 drivers for speeding in 2013. So precinct officers issued a third as many summonses to pedestrians in one weekend as they did to speeding motorists in all of 2013.

Mayor de Blasio said ticketing pedestrians is not part of his Vision Zero strategy, but he endorsed the 24th precinct’s approach. Said de Blasio on Monday: “There is no larger policy in terms of jaywalking and ticketing and jaywalking. That’s not part of our plan. But it is something a local precinct commander can act on, if they perceive there to be a real danger.”

“The [24th] precinct commander is doing exactly what we want our precinct commanders to do,” de Blasio told WCBS.

Kang Wong was charged with obstruction of government administration, resisting arrest, and disorderly conduct, according to reports. The first two charges are class A misdemeanors — more severe than a first-time DWI charge. Obstruction of government administration carries a sentence of up to a year in jail. While Wong is looking at jail time, the Times reported Sunday that unnamed prosecutors blamed vehicular crimes statutes and the courts for their failure to charge drivers who killed three pedestrians and a cyclist last weekend.

In each case, detectives from the Police Department’s collision investigation squad examined the scenes. Commissioner William J. Bratton said last week he would expand investigations of serious crashes, an effort that began last year. But such cases remain difficult to bring, prosecutors say, and have grown more so in recent years as the state Court of Appeals has limited the ability to make serious charges stick against drivers.

Of the 10 crashes that have killed pedestrians and cyclists in 2014, no drivers were charged with homicide or assault. It is true that judges and juries tend to side with those who commit vehicular crimes, but prosecutors who are complaining to the press about the difficulty of securing convictions against motorists should also be making their case to Albany legislators, who have the power to change laws.

To seriously reduce traffic injuries and deaths, the mayor’s office, NYPD, and city district attorneys must be in sync. With 10 people dead, no motorists held accountable, and a pedestrian jailed, what New Yorkers have seen so far in 2014 is closer to chaos.

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Drunk Driver Avoids Homicide Charge in Brooklyn Pedestrian Death [Updated]

A motorist who has admitted to driving drunk in a crash that killed a Brooklyn pedestrian was not charged with homicide by District Attorney Charles Hynes or his successor Ken Thompson. He was allowed to plead guilty this week to a top charge of misdemeanor DWI, court records say, and faces a maximum sentence of a year in jail.

Roxana Gomez

Roxana Gomez

At around 12:25 a.m. on July 5, 2013, 27-year-old Roxana Gomez was walking at Flatbush Avenue and St. Marks Avenue when she was hit by a BMW sedan driven by Eric Nesmith, according to witness accounts and the Post. Gomez 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, 25, of Newark, ”admitted to cops he had consumed up to six Coronas at a family gathering” before the crash. His BAC was .126, the Post said.

According to online court records, Nesmith pled guilty Thursday to operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, an unclassified misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail, a $1,000 fine, and a license revocation of at least six months.

It is unclear why this defendant was not charged for killing someone while driving drunk. Streetsblog contacted the Brooklyn district attorney’s office several times regarding this case, by phone and email, but public relations staff stopped responding to our queries not long after the crash. We have another message in with Thompson’s office concerning the Nesmith plea.

Nesmith is scheduled to be sentenced on March 25.

Update: We received the following statement from Thompson’s office: ”An accident reconstruction expert concluded that alcohol was not a contributing factor in the death of the pedestrian in this case.”

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Bratton’s Bad Data on Pedestrian Injuries Won’t Get Us to Vision Zero

Yesterday NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton said that in 73 percent of crashes in which a pedestrian was struck by a motorist in 2013, the pedestrian was at fault. Bratton presented that figure as an indictment of pedestrian behavior, and the stat was later parroted by the press. But more than anything it speaks to the victim-blaming bias that permeates NYPD traffic enforcement and crash investigations — a major obstacle Bratton will have to overcome to implement Vision Zero.

Commissioner Bratton and Mayor de Blasio at yesterday's Vision Zero event. Image: Clarence Eckerson

Commissioner Bratton and Mayor de Blasio at yesterday’s Vision Zero event. Image: Clarence Eckerson

Here’s what Bratton said at Wednesday’s Vision Zero press conference:

“Last year, pedestrian error — and I point this out — pedestrian error contributed to 73 percent of collisions, and 66 percent are directly related to the actions of pedestrians. So while a lot of our focus is on drivers and speed, we also need to work more comprehensively on pedestrian education.”

These numbers came from out of nowhere, and it’s impossible to say what Bratton based them on.

But let’s start with the data we have at our disposal. A tally of NYPD’s monthly crash reports shows there were 14,845 pedestrian and cyclist injuries and deaths from January through November of last year (citywide crash numbers for December have not yet been released). For those 11 months, pedestrian and cyclist “error/confusion” was coded as a contributing factor in fatal and injury crashes involving 1,092 vehicles. That means only about 7 or 8 percent of pedestrian and cyclist injuries were coded as being the fault of the victim.

Other research has also shown that “pedestrian error” is not the risk factor that Bratton made it out to be. NYC DOT’s landmark 2010 pedestrian safety study, based on records of 7,000 crashes involving pedestrians, found that motorist behavior was the main factor in 78.5 percent of serious pedestrian injuries and fatalities. A 2012 report from Transportation Alternatives found that 60 percent of fatal New York City pedestrian and cyclist crashes with known causes between 1995 and 2009 were the result of motorists breaking traffic laws, according to data from the state Department of Transportation. And NYC DOT data from 2011 revealed that half of pedestrians killed in city crosswalks were crossing with the signal.

So the 73 percent figure doesn’t match up with any known dataset or the robust recent research into the causes of serious pedestrian injuries. Yet Bratton’s quote was aired and repeated by several media outlets, including the New York TimesWABC, and WNYC.

We don’t know where Bratton got his numbers, but we’ve asked NYPD. What we know is that the NYPD unit that creates the reports upon which most crash data is based — the Highway Division — has a record of jumping to conclusions that aren’t supported by the evidence.

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