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Albany Alert: Urge Governor Cuomo to Amend or Kill Hit-and-Run Bill

District attorneys are calling on Albany’s three men in a room to amend or kill a bill that would affect future cases against drivers who leave the scene of a serious crash.

Prosecutors and advocates have for years asked lawmakers to address a loophole in state law that gives hit-and-run drivers an incentive to leave the scene. Since the penalty for DWI is more severe, drivers who flee the scene and sober up can essentially game the system — assuming police track them down at all. In New York City, most hit-and-run crashes go unsolved.

This session, the Assembly and State Senate passed a bill (A5266/S4747) to create the offense of aggravated leaving the scene, a class C felony, but it places a bevy of conditions on when the charge may be applied.

As passed, the charge may be applied only when a driver leaves the scene of a crash resulting in the death or serious injury of more than one person. It must be determined that the crash was caused by reckless driving, and the driver must be driving without a valid license due to a prior DWI or leaving the scene conviction, or have a prior conviction for leaving the scene or DWI in the last 10 years. 

The bill’s sponsors are Assembly Member Fred Thiele of Bridgehampton and Senator Rich Funke of Fairport.

Madeline Singas, acting district attorney in Nassau County, is opposed to the bill. Maureen McCormick, Nassau vehicular crimes chief, says her office and other prosecutors are in touch with Thiele and Funke about amending it and are asking Governor Cuomo to either not sign the current bill or veto it outright.

“The chapter amendment we are seeking — and the bill sponsors support — would simply elevate the current felony levels for leaving the scene,” McCormick told Streetsblog via email. “The E felony [New York’s least severe felony category] for leaving where there is serious injury would be elevated to a D and the D felony for fatalities would be elevated to a C.”

The bill could be sent to Governor Cuomo for his signature at any time. Transportation Alternatives is urging people to contact Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, and the governor’s office to ask them to amend or veto the bill.

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Cy Vance: Repeat Hit-and-Run Killer Shouldn’t Drive Again; Judge: Disagree

A driver who killed two people in separate hit-and-run crashes could be driving again in two years after a judge disregarded a sentencing recommendation from Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.

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Jack Montelbano killed two people in separate hit-and-run crashes. Manhattan DA Cy Vance recommended he never be allowed to drive again, but a judge revoked his license for just two years. Photo: Facebook via Gothamist

In 2013 Jack Montelbano ran over 69-year-old Shu Ying Liu with a private dump truck as Liu crossed 41st Street at Ninth Avenue in the crosswalk and with the right of way. Montelbano kept driving, and was later arrested in New Jersey, where he lived and where the truck was registered.

Vance charged Montelbano with felony leaving the scene, and last month he was convicted at trial.

Montelbano had killed while driving before. Incredibly, according to Vance’s office, he fatally struck another person and left the scene at the same Manhattan intersection in 2008.

Vance’s office said Montelbano was involved in a third hit-and-run crash, after which he registered a blood alcohol content of .18.

Montelbano accumulated over 20 offenses on his driving record in 30 years, according to Vance’s office, including speeding, following too closely, and driving with a suspended license. Some of those incidents occurred while Montelbano was operating commercial vehicles, Vance’s office said.

Given the class D felony conviction and Montelbano’s exceptional history of reckless driving, prosecutors recommended a sentence of two to six years in state prison and a permanent license revocation.

Instead Judge Anthony Ferrara sentenced Montelbano to six months in jail and five years probation, and revoked his driving privileges for two years. Per the terms of the sentence, Montelbano is prohibited from driving a commercial vehicle for five years, and his New York commercial vehicle license was permanently revoked.

“This driver showed cowardly and callous disregard for human life when he knowingly abandoned a critically injured person who wound up dying from injuries related to this crash,” said Vance spokesperson Joan Vollero, in a statement emailed to Streetsblog. “Making city streets safer for all New Yorkers is a priority for this Office, and has been the guiding principle behind our participation in regular meetings with the NYC Department of Transportation, Vision Zero panels, discussions with members of Families for Safe Streets and Transportation Alternatives, among others.”

In New York State, a revocation means a driver must apply to have his license reinstated. From what we can tell the process is similar in New Jersey. While it’s possible Montelbano won’t get his license back, Ferrara could have taken a reckless killer off the roads for good.

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DMV: Driver Who Killed Child in Crosswalk May Drive Again After Six Months

Pursuant to a New York State Department of Motor Vehicles hearing, the former cab driver who killed 9-year-old Cooper Stock will regain his driving privileges after six months.

The driver who killed Cooper Stock admitted that he failed to see Cooper and his dad in a crosswalk. After a ruling by the New York State DMV he'll be driving again soon.

The driver who killed Cooper Stock admitted that he failed to see Cooper and his dad in a crosswalk. After a ruling by the New York State DMV he’ll be driving again soon.

In January 2014 Cooper and his father Richard Stock were crossing an Upper West Side street in a crosswalk with the right of way when Koffi Komlani hit them with a yellow taxi. Komlani was summonsed for careless driving and failure to yield. NYPD and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance filed no criminal charges against him.

Komlani pled guilty last April and was sentenced to a $580 fine and a six-month suspension of his drivers license. After a June hearing, DMV administrative law judge Marc Berger suspended Komlani’s license for 180 days. An agency spokesperson told us the DMV penalty is concurrent with the terms of Komlani’s plea arrangement.

According to the Post, video of the crash was submitted as evidence at the DMV hearing.

When two DMV judges watched it, Komlani slumped his head, closed his eyes and put a hand to his face.

He claimed he did not see Cooper in the crosswalk.

“I never saw the son!” he told the judge during the hearing to decide whether he should keep his driver’s license. “I was not on the phone. I was not drunk. I was not on anything. I just missed them!”

A license suspension in New York State means a driver gets his license back once the term of the suspension is over. Had Komlani’s license been revoked he would have been required to file an application to regain his driving privileges, subject to DMV approval.

We asked for a copy of Berger’s findings. The DMV rep directed us to file a freedom of information request.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission did not renew Komlani’s probationary hack license, but under current agency rules he could reapply to drive a cab.

“I cannot understand how any judge, in any court, would not permanently revoke that person’s license when they watched a video of him running over a child right in front of him in plain sight,” Cooper’s mother, Dana Lerner, told us via email. “This man hit my husband and killed my 9-year-old child. Why should he be allowed the privilege of driving?”

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DMV: Six-Month Suspension for Driver Who Killed Sammy Cohen Eckstein

The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles determined that the driver who killed 12-year-old Sammy Cohen Eckstein failed to exercise due care and did not have a valid license at the time of the crash. DMV administrative law judge Marc Berger suspended the driver’s license for six months.

Sammy Cohen Eckstein

At around 5:15 p.m. on October 8, 2013, Sammy was attempting to retrieve a ball from Prospect Park West at Third Street when Luis K. Quizhpi-Tacuri hit him with a Chevrolet van. According to findings issued by Berger on June 29 [PDF], Quizhpi-Tacuri admitted that he saw the ball in the street, and saw another driver, traveling in the same direction to his left, come to a stop. Rather than slow down or stop, Quizhpi-Tacuri passed the second vehicle on the right, striking Sammy with the right rear tire of the van.

According to the DMV report, Quizhpi-Tacuri testified at a June 26 hearing that he was traveling at 25 miles per hour when the collision occurred. He also said he was late for a 5:00 appointment.

Wrote Berger:

The sight of a ball rolling into the street in a residential area adjacent to a park in the afternoon should have warned the respondent of the likely presence of children — to carefully observe his surroundings and make appropriate adjustments, including slowing down or stopping if necessary. Additionally, the fact that the vehicle immediately to his left suddenly stopped after the ball passed should have been an indication to the respondent to use extra care instead of passing that vehicle on its right.

Berger found Quizhpi-Tacuri committed three traffic offenses: failure to use due care, passing on the right unsafely, and driving without a valid license. Berger’s report says Quizhpi-Tacuri had a Washington state license at the time of the crash, though he had lived in New York for nine years. New York requires drivers to obtain a new license within 30 days of becoming a resident.

NYPD failed to send any of the officers who investigated the crash to Quizhpi-Tacuri’s DMV hearing, according to Steve Vaccaro, the attorney for Sammy’s family.

NYPD blamed Sammy for the crash and issued no summonses or charges. No charges were filed by former Brooklyn district attorney Charles Hynes or his successor Ken Thompson, who took office in 2014.

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MTA Report on Fatal Bus Crash Doesn’t Say What the Post Says It Does

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The MTA’s diagram of the crash that killed John Lavery last October.

The Post ran a story today blaming the death of 64-year-old John Lavery in the Bronx last October on a broken street light, not the bus driver who struck him. But the very report cited by the Post, obtained by Streetsblog [PDF], reveals that the MTA’s internal investigation ruled the collision was preventable, and that driver Theresa Gallagher failed to take the turn at a safe speed, as drivers are trained to.

Gallagher was the first MTA bus driver charged under the city’s Right of Way Law, which made it a misdemeanor to injure or kill pedestrians and cyclists who have the right of way. The Post’s Daniel Prendergast, citing “a damning MTA report,” writes that a “broken street lamp made it impossible for the veteran driver to see the man, who was on methadone at the time, the document shows.”

While that explanation provides convenient fodder for TWU Local 100’s campaign to exempt bus drivers from the law, it’s not what the MTA report says.

At about 1:30 a.m. on October 3, Lavery, walking with a cane, was crossing East 147th Street with the signal “in close proximity to the crosswalk” when he was struck by the “left front section” of the bus.

MTA bus drivers are instructed to take turns at no more than 5 mph and to scan intersections for pedestrians. While New York City Transit’s Office of System Safety did find that a broken street light reduced visibility at the intersection where Lavery was killed, the investigation also determined that Gallagher took the turn at 11-15 mph — more than twice as fast as bus drivers are supposed to even when visibility is ideal:

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Cy Vance Nets Felony Conviction of Driver Who Killed Senior Shu Ying Liu

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance secured a felony hit-and-run conviction against a truck driver who killed a senior in Hell’s Kitchen.

Cy Vance. Photo: Manhattan DA

On February 5, 2013, Jack Montelbano ran over 69-year-old Shu Ying Liu with a private dump truck as Liu crossed 41st Street at Ninth Avenue in the crosswalk and with the right of way. The Times reported that Montelbano drove away from the scene though witnesses alerted him to the collision.

Liu, who reportedly once worked as a magazine editor in China, lived on W. 54th Street, near the site of the crash. She was pronounced dead at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital.

Police found Montelbano in New Jersey, where he lived and where the truck was registered. A prosecutor with Vance’s office said Montelbano was “involved in a fatal car crash at that same spot several years ago,” the Post reported after Montelbano’s arrest.

Vance charged Montelbano with felony leaving the scene. Montelbano pled not guilty and was convicted at trial last Friday, June 19. The case was prosecuted by ADA Patricia Stolfi Collins.

To convict a driver for hit-and-run in New York State, prosecutors must prove a motorist knew or had reason to know an injury occurred. This is more difficult than it may seem. Under state law, “I didn’t see her” is not an admission of guilt, but a potent defense strategy. In another case brought by Vance, a jury acquitted the postal worker who killed cyclist Marilyn Dershowitz, despite video evidence showing the driver stop his truck after the collision before driving away from the scene.

Montelbano was convicted of a class D felony, which carries penalties ranging from probation to seven years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced in July.

Years before Liu was killed, Community Board 4 asked DOT to give people more time to cross at Ninth Avenue and W. 41st Street, an intersection with a history of crashes. Liu’s death sparked renewed calls for DOT action, and the agency finally made improvements, including a dedicated pedestrian signal phase, last summer.

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Did Cy Vance’s Office Investigate the Crash That Killed Mike Rogalle?

Cy Vance’s office said it has no record of the crash that killed Mike Rogalle.

Cy Vance’s office said it has no record of the crash that killed Mike Rogalle.

A Manhattan prosecutor says District Attorney Cy Vance’s office has no record of any investigation into the curb-jump crash that killed pedestrian Mike Rogalle.

Rogalle, who delivered packages for UPS, was working his Financial District route on the afternoon of April 17, 2012, when an SUV driver ran him over on the sidewalk outside 15 Beekman Street. Rogalle was removed from life support days later. He was 58.

Reports said there were two adults and two small children in the SUV. The press identified the adult passenger, a man, as an FDNY inspector. The driver was reportedly a woman. The names of the people in the SUV were not reported by the media.

NYPD and Vance filed no charges against the driver who killed Mike Rogalle.

Last month NYPD rejected a Streetsblog FOIL request for records pertaining to the crash, citing “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” On May 26 we filed a freedom of information request for documents from Vance’s office, including emails, pertaining to the case.

Assistant DA Sarah Hines responded on June 10:

Utilizing the information provided in your letter, including the name of the man who died and the date and location of the collision, which you specify, I have made diligent inquiries in this Office, including speaking with the Chief of the Vehicular Crimes Unit as well as the Unit Coordinator of that unit. Despite these inquiries, I have been unable to locate any records or documents responsive to your request.

If we do not possess the items you seek, then your request must be denied on that basis. The District Attorney’s Office cannot provide an item that does not exist or that we do not possess. If we do possess some or all of the items you seek, then your request does not “reasonably” describe them in a manner which enables me to locate them, and your request must be denied on that basis.

In the past, Vance’s PR staff told Streetsblog they could not access traffic crash cases without defendants’ names. Since very few traffic crashes in New York City result in criminal charges, there are usually no defendants to speak of. Meanwhile, NYPD generally does not divulge drivers’ names after a serious crash unless charges are filed.

This makes it impossible for the public to know why charges are not brought against Manhattan drivers who injure and kill people. In the case of Mike Rogalle, it appears that either Vance’s office is incapable of locating records when provided key details of a collision, or Vance’s office did not investigate Rogalle’s death.

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NYPD Denies FOIL Request for Files on NYPD Crash That Killed Felix Coss

NYPD rejected a Streetsblog freedom of information request for files pertaining to a crash in which an on-duty officer killed a pedestrian in Brooklyn.

Felix Coss. Photo via DNAinfo

Felix Coss, 61, was crossing Broadway at Hooper Street, in a crosswalk with the signal, on the afternoon of July 6, 2013, when Officer Paula Medrano struck him with a marked van from the 90th Precinct while making a left turn, according to reports and photos of the scene.

DNAinfo and the Daily News cited witnesses who said Medrano was seen talking on a cell phone at the time of the collision. “She had a cellphone to her right ear,” a witness told the Daily News. “She hit him. When she hit him, he fell on the floor and cracked his head open.”

The crash was reportedly investigated by the Internal Affairs Bureau, but the results of that investigation were not publicized in the media. Medrano’s name never appeared in an online database of court records.

On May 7, Streetsblog filed a FOIL request for records related to the crash. On May 26, NYPD Lieutenant Richard Mantellino rejected our request, citing “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” the same language Mantellino used to deny our FOIL for records pertaining to the 2012 curb-jump crash that killed Mike Rogalle. As with the Rogalle crash, NYPD could have redacted whatever personal information the department deemed necessary, but again chose to withhold all files.

NYPD shields information pertaining to traffic crash investigations from the public — and victims’ families — as a matter of course. NYPD is especially secretive concerning crashes involving police personnel, withholding data even from other city departments.

Streetsblog is appealing NYPD’s rejection of our request for information on the crash that killed Felix Coss.

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NYPD Denies Request for Files Related to Fatal Manhattan Curb-Jump Crash

Mike Rogalle appeared in a promotional video with Neil deGrasse Tyson, who noted his death on Facebook. Image: NOVA/YouTube via Facebook

Mike Rogalle appeared in a promotional video with Neil deGrasse Tyson before Rogalle was killed by a curb-jumping motorist in 2012. The driver was not charged. Image: NOVA/YouTube via Facebook

NYPD rejected a Streetsblog freedom of information request for files related to a curb-jump crash that killed a Manhattan pedestrian in the Financial District three years ago.

UPS man Mike Rogalle was working his regular route on the afternoon of April 17, 2012, when an SUV driver ran him over on the sidewalk outside 15 Beekman Street. Witnesses described an unthinkably gruesome scene, with Rogalle trapped under the vehicle before he was taken to the hospital in critical condition. Rogalle, 58, was removed from life support a few days after the crash.

Reports said there were two adults and two small children in the SUV at the time of the crash. The adult passenger, a man, was identified in the press as an FDNY inspector, and the driver was reportedly a woman. The names of the people in the SUV were not reported by the media.

NYPD and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance filed no charges against the driver who killed Mike Rogalle.

On May 7, Streetsblog filed a FOIL request for records pertaining to the crash that killed Rogalle. On May 19, NYPD Lieutenant Richard Mantellino rejected the request, citing “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” NYPD could have released the records with personal information redacted, but instead denied our request outright. Mantellino’s letter is embedded after the jump.

Streetsblog is appealing NYPD’s rejection of our request. On Tuesday we filed a separate FOIL request for relevant records from DA Vance’s office.

Last month a hit-and-run driver ran over a woman on the sidewalk near the spot where Rogalle was hit. Vance filed felony charges in that case. Both crashes occurred near Spruce Street School, where, according to parents who have kids there, motorists regularly use the sidewalk to drive around traffic. Spruce Street parents and administrators asked DOT for improvements to Beekman before Rogalle was killed. DOT installed a stop light and street markings at Beekman and William streets but has not implemented measures, such as bollards, to keep drivers off the sidewalk.

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Cy Vance Files Felony Charges for Beekman Street Sidewalk Hit-and-Run

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance has filed felony charges against a woman accused of driving onto a downtown sidewalk, striking a pedestrian, and leaving the scene.

Heather Hensl was walking on Beekman Street near William Street on April 13 when a motorist struck her, knocking her to the ground, lacerating her head and fracturing her leg. The driver did not stop.

Cy Vance. Photo: Manhattan DA

Video showed the driver “backing up several times in order to be able to make the turn onto the sidewalk and head west past a traffic jam” prior to the collision, according to Downtown Express. DNAinfo reported that the driver barely missed hitting other people, including children, who were able to get out of her path. The crash occurred near Spruce Street School, where, according to parents who have kids there, it’s not unusual for motorists to use the sidewalk to drive around traffic.

Police said the same car was involved in a second hit-and-run crash, involving a pedestrian in Brooklyn, shortly after Hensl was hit.

Earlier this month, Hensl said NYPD was prepared to close the case without filing charges because the woman identified as the vehicle’s owner lives in New Jersey. Police also said they were unable to find a witness who saw the driver through the vehicle’s tinted windows.

But on Wednesday the alleged driver, Tiffany Murdaugh, appeared in New York Criminal Court on multiple charges, according to Downtown Express and court records. Vance charged Murdaugh with assault, reckless endangerment, and leaving the scene of an accident, court records say. Assault and reckless endangerment are both class D felonies, with penalties ranging from probation to seven years in prison.

From Downtown Express:

According to the complaint, on Tuesday evening at the First Precinct, Murdaugh was shown video of the incident and identified the 2013 white Dodge Challenger in it as her vehicle. She also told police that “she had taken the Holland Tunnel into Manhattan that morning and that no one else had driven her vehicle that day,” according to the complaint.

“I’m very relieved,” said Hensl in a phone interview. “I’m glad that she is in jail right now and not on the street.”

Hensl said the assistant district attorney who called her felt confident in the case and she will testify before the grand jury.

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