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Posts from the Traffic Justice Category

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A Bus Design Flaw Is No Reason to Gut the Right of Way Law

As part of its campaign to make it legal for bus drivers to injure and kill people, the Transport Workers Union says flawed bus design is to blame for bus drivers hitting pedestrians while turning.

Ella Bandes was killed by a bus driver turning right in 2013.

According to WABC, the TWU claims “half of all recent bus accidents” in NYC and nationwide occurred because drivers were prevented from seeing pedestrians while turning left. TWU and the Amalgamated Transit Union say the issue is that driver visibility is obstructed by the left-hand windshield pillar and the driver’s side rear view mirror.

“There’s a blind spot that’s 14 inches wide that obscures not only one pedestrian but as many as 15,” ATU International President Larry Hanley told WCBS. The unions say “newly-designed” buses are the problem.

Of the nine crashes in 2014 where an MTA bus driver killed a pedestrian, three drivers were reportedly turning left and five were turning right. I looked back through media reports on those eight crashes. Most didn’t have photos from the scene, but of the three that did, each bus was a different model.

In a statement, the MTA said bus drivers are trained to see pedestrians by “leaning into and out of their mirrors while seated to ensure that their line of sight is not obstructed.”

Mayor de Blasio said Wednesday that if it poses a threat to safety, bus design should be looked at. “But in the here and now,” de Blasio said, “our message to everyone in this city, whether they work for the city, or they work for the MTA, or a private individual, is you have to drive safely. You have to yield to pedestrians. You have to respect that there’s new laws now that clearly penalize those who do not yield to pedestrians.”

If it turns out that MTA buses were built in such a way that endangers people, by all means, fix the buses. But as the mayor indicated, everyone who drives in NYC must yield to people walking. A bus design flaw is no reason to gut the Right of Way Law.

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NYPD Tickets Driver After Blaming Staten Island Teen for Her Own Death

After initially blaming the victim in the press, NYPD issued a careless driving summons to the monster truck driver who killed 15-year-old Jenna Daniels as she jogged along a Staten Island street last winter. The department refused to release the driver’s name or disclose how he was penalized, the Staten Island Advance reports.

After blaming Jenna Daniels for her own death, NYPD found the motorist who hit her failed to exercise due care.  Photo via Staten Island Advance

After blaming Jenna Daniels for her own death, NYPD found the motorist who hit her failed to exercise due care. Photo via Staten Island Advance

The driver hit Daniels with a pickup truck as he made a left turn from Hylan Boulevard onto Bayview Avenue in Prince’s Bay on the afternoon of November 15, according to the Advance. Police said Daniels was on Hylan, crossing Bayview from west to east, when she was struck. She suffered severe head trauma and was declared dead on arrival at the hospital.

Photos taken at the scene showed a black Ford F-150 with a raised chassis, oversized aftermarket wheels, a blacked-out grille and front bumper, and tinted headlights. In the photos, the truck is sitting in the street a few yards from the crosswalk.

In November, before completing an investigation, NYPD issued a “preliminary” finding that Daniels was jogging “outside the crosswalk … with headphones in her ears.” Jogging with headphones is legal, and according to attorney Steve Vaccaro, mid-block crossings are permitted on the street where the crash occurred.

While NYPD emphasized Daniels’s actions, the driver’s speed at the time of the collision “was not recorded as part of the CIS report.” The driver was ticketed for tinted windows, but police said they “did not contribute to the crash.”

In November NYPD told the Advance the driver “had the right of way” and that “pedestrian error: crossing outside marked crosswalk” caused the crash. But in March, with a “months-long investigation” complete, the Advance reported that police summonsed the driver for failure to exercise due care.

Despite NYPD’s determination that the motorist was driving carelessly, and the absence of evidence that the victim was breaking traffic rules, an NYPD spokesperson said Daniels “contributed to the collision.”

NYPD continued to shield the driver’s identity and “declined to divulge the driver’s punishment,” the Advance reported.

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Rangel: Let’s Allow Bus Drivers to Kill People With the Right of Way

Congressman Charlie Rangel condemned the Right of Way Law earlier this week, joining the Transport Workers Union to argue that the law should allow MTA bus drivers to kill people who have the right of way.

Photo: Politic365

Speaking to bus drivers and TWU officials Monday at the Mother Clara Hale Depot in Harlem, Rangel said it was “stupid” to charge bus drivers with a misdemeanor for injuring and killing people with the right of way, according to Daily News reporter Pete Donohue, a Right of Way Law critic who has devoted a lot of ink to the TWU campaign to exempt drivers from the law.

Echoing the TWU, Rangel said that hitting people who are walking or biking with the right of way is just part of the job of driving a bus.

“Common sense would indicate that when (lawmakers) were thinking about this, the last thing in the world they were thinking about is a bus driver doing their duty would be arrested,” Rangel said. “Right now, we should be calling the mayor and telling him, ‘Don’t embarrass yourself.’ Anybody can make a mistake and this is just one big damn mistake, that’s all, because isn’t a joke [sic].”

After years of drivers hitting people with virtually no accountability, the Right of Way Law gave NYPD and prosecutors a tool to impose at least some consequences against motorists for harming people who were following traffic laws. To Rangel, applying this law consistently “doesn’t make any damn sense at all.”

Speaking of making no damn sense at all, the TWU unveiled more propaganda blaming victims for getting hit by bus drivers:

Read more…

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Cab Driver Who Killed Cooper Stock Remains Eligible for TLC License

The cab driver who killed Cooper Stock is still eligible to be licensed by the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

Cooper Stock

Cooper Stock

Koffi Komlani struck 9-year-old Cooper and his father, Richard Stock, in an Upper West Side crosswalk in January 2014. This week, Komlani pled guilty to careless driving and was sentenced to a nominal fine and a six-month suspension of his drivers license. Though Cooper and his dad were walking with the right of way, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance filed no criminal charges against Komlani.

The TLC opted not to renew Komlani’s probationary hack license when it expired last July — which, under current agency rules, means he could be re-licensed.

“We did opt not to renew, but legally, for all intents and purposes, it was still a simple expiration, and the law provides for the opportunity to reapply for a new license after an expiration,” TLC spokesperson Allan Fromberg told Streetsblog. “But if he were to reapply, he would be subject to a stringent fitness review, which would take his history fully into account.”

Komlani would not be the only cab driver to kill or seriously injure someone and remain in good standing with the TLC. The cab drivers who fatally struck Kelly Gordon and Timothy Keith, and the cabbie who severed the leg of Sian Green, to cite just three instances, reportedly retained their hack licenses.

The law adopted in Cooper’s name, which took effect last September, gives TLC discretion to revoke a hack license only if a cab driver is convicted of a traffic violation or a crime following a crash that causes death or critical injury. The TLC suspended the license of Uber driver Aliou Diallo after he killed Wesley Mensing and injured Erin Sauchelli in Manhattan last January, but reinstated Diallo after the sole charge against him, a ticket for driving without a license, was dismissed by the DMV.

Cooper’s Law was intended to get dangerous cab drivers off the streets. But with drivers who have killed people still eligible for TLC licenses, agency rules clearly need additional reforms.

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Cy Vance: $580 Fine for Driver Who Killed 9-Year-Old Cooper Stock

Following a plea deal agreed to by Manhattan DA Cy Vance, the driver who killed Cooper Stock in a crosswalk was fined $580 and lost his driving privileges for six months.

Following a plea deal agreed to by Manhattan DA Cy Vance, the driver who killed Cooper Stock in a crosswalk was fined $580 and lost his driving privileges for six months.

In separate stories published yesterday, family members of Marilyn Dershowitz and Cooper Stock, both lost to traffic violence, criticized Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance for his reluctance to file serious charges against motorists who kill people.

Vance declined to apply criminal charges against Koffi Komlani, the cab driver who struck 9-year-old Cooper and his father as the two walked hand in hand in an Upper West Side crosswalk in January 2014. Cooper was killed, his father was injured, and it took Vance 11 months to charge Komlani with two traffic offenses — careless driving and failure to yield.

Komlani’s attorney said weather caused the crash, the same excuse Vance’s office gave Cooper’s family for not pursuing a criminal case.

On Monday, according to the Post, prosecutors agreed to a plea arrangement for Komlani: a $580 fine and a six-month license suspension. Komlani’s attorney said Vance’s office did not ask for jail time, which would have maxed out at 15 days.

[Cooper’s mother Dana] Lerner said District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s office told her they needed two misdemeanors to charge Komlani criminally — even though the prosecutor campaigned on getting rid of that case law precedent, referred to as the “rule of two.”

“It goes without saying that what happened here today does not even begin to bring justice in the death of my son Cooper Stock,” said a statement from Lerner, read yesterday in court. “Giving this man a traffic ticket for killing my son is an insult to us and to Cooper’s memory. Is a life worth nothing more than a traffic ticket?”

The New York Press reports that a civil jury last week ruled U.S. Postal Service driver Ian Clement at fault for killing cyclist Marilyn Dershowitz in 2011. Clement ran Dershowitz over, stopped his truck for a moment, then drove away. He was cleared by a jury of leaving the scene, a charge filed by Vance after the Dershowitz family complained to the media about the DA’s handling of the case.

The Press reports that Judge Sarah Netburn ruled Clement “was negligent in his operation of his vehicle, causing the accident and [Dershowitz’s] death.”

Read more…

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Cy Vance: Senior’s Crosswalk Death Remains Unsolved After Seven Months

No charges were filed by NYPD or Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance against the driver who fatally struck 82-year-old Sui Leung in a Manhattan crosswalk last fall. Though Council Member Margaret Chin said the NYPD crash report indicated Leung was walking with the right of way, Vance’s office says the investigation has yet to conclude seven months after the crash.

Cy Vance indicted 190 drivers for vehicular crimes in five years. Will he try for 191? Photo: Manhattan DA

commercial van driver hit Leung as she crossed at the intersection Kenmare and Elizabeth Streets on the afternoon of September 25, 2014. NYPD didn’t release the driver’s identity. The van belonged to Party Rental Ltd. of Teterboro, New Jersey.

Shortly after the crash, NYPD told Streetsblog the driver had a green light. A visit to the intersection revealed there is no exclusive turn phase at Kenmare and Elizabeth, so Leung would have had a walk signal when the driver had a green, and would therefore have had the right of way.

“She had the right of way,” local City Council Member Margaret Chin told Streetsblog last October. Along with council reps Rosie Mendez and Ydanis Rodriguez, Chin sent a letter to NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan urging police to charge the driver under the Right of Way Law, which took effect last August. According to details provided in the police report, Chin said, Leung “unquestionably did nothing wrong.”

Streetsblog contacted Chin’s office last December to check up on the case, and at that time no action had been taken against the driver.

“It looks like no charges were ever filed,” Chin spokesperson Sam Spokony told Streetsblog last week, “and that’s obviously something we’re really unhappy with, as Council Member Chin has communicated to both the Manhattan DA’s office and NYPD.”

“At this stage, the investigation remains open, so we cannot make further comment,” said Vance spokesperson Joan Vollero. Vance’s office usually does not comment on vehicular cases, even when cases are disposed or no charges are filed in the first place.

The investigation into the death of 9-year-old Cooper Stock was officially “open” for months after Vance’s office told family members no charges would be filed against the cab driver who killed him.

Read more…

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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.”

Read more…

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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.

Read more…

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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.