Skip to content

Posts from the Traffic Justice Category

9 Comments

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

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

Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson

Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13 Comments

Gianaris: Time for Albany to Stiffen Penalties for Unlicensed Drivers Who Kill

This morning State Senator Michael Gianaris again called on state lawmakers to pass legislation that would stiffen penalties for motorists who hurt and kill people while driving without a valid license.

Joined by State Senator Toby Stavisky, Assembly Member Francisco Moya, and reps from Transportation Alternatives and Make Queens Safer, Gianaris spoke to the press at Woodside Avenue and 76th Street in Elmhurst, where alleged unlicensed driver Valentine Gonzalez killed an unidentified woman last Sunday.

“How many deaths at the hands of unauthorized drivers will it take before we make sure the punishment fits the crime in these cases?” said Gianaris, according to a press release. “It is heartbreaking to see one family after another suffer the loss of a loved one because irresponsible drivers get behind the wheel when they shouldn’t.”

Gianaris introduced a bill last year to make it a class E felony to cause serious injury or death while driving without a valid license, as long as the license was suspended or revoked for traffic offenses. A second Gianaris bill would require drivers with suspended or revoked licenses to surrender their vehicle registrations and license plates. Margaret Markey is the primary sponsor of both bills in the Assembly.

Gianaris brought the bills after an unlicensed truck driver killed 8-year-old Noshat Nahian on Northern Boulevard in Woodside in December 2013. Weeks later an unlicensed driver killed senior Angela Hurtado in Maspeth. Both drivers were charged with aggravated unlicensed operation. The driver who killed Hurtado pled guilty and was fined $500.

NYPD and city district attorneys typically charge aggravated unlicensed operation, a low-level misdemeanor, when an unlicensed driver kills someone. This offense carries a maximum penalty of a $500 fine and 30 days in jail, though jail sentences are all but unheard of.

Aggravated unlicensed operation is the same charge that police and prosecutors apply when an unlicensed driver commits a traffic infraction. In practice this means that an unlicensed driver who kills a senior in a crosswalk faces the same penalty as an unlicensed driver who turns without signaling.

Read more…

18 Comments

How the Daily News Gets the Right of Way Law Completely Wrong

Bianca Petillo McCloud, 18, was walking across 132nd Avenue in Rochdale, Queens, when she was struck by a turning truck driver and killed. Police did not issue so much as a citation, even though the circumstances of the crash suggested that McCloud had the right of way.

Shirley Shea died 10 months after she was struck by a school bus driver who violated her right of way in a crosswalk. Police barely investigated the crash and did not cite the driver, a situation the Right of Way Law seeks to remedy.

Nor did police issue any charges to the truck driver who turned across the path of 24-year-old Emma Blumstein as she biked straight ahead on Bedford Avenue with the green light. Blumstein was pronounced dead at the scene.

And there were no charges for the school bus driver who struck Shirley Shea, 78, as she crossed 67th Street at Columbus Avenue with the walk signal. Shea died 10 months later as a result of injuries sustained in the crash.

I bring up this awful loss of life because the Daily News opinion page ran two pieces condemning the city’s new Right of Way Law over the weekend — one by the editorial board and the other by City Council Member I. Daneek Miller — with only one mention of someone hurt or killed by a driver who failed to obey the law.

The piece from the editorial board had the laziest mistakes, so let’s start with that. According to the Daily News:

The criminalizing of failure-to-yield accidents grew out of the notion, espoused by some transportation advocates, that there is virtually no such thing as a traffic accident. In almost every case, someone did something wrong, so that’s a crime.

Those advocates may often be right in the most technical, literal sense, but not in the real world and certainly not in a criminal justice system that demands proof beyond a reasonable doubt after the handcuffs have been released.

This is completely wrong, coming and going.

The Right of Way Law was designed to fix a very specific, “real world” problem — police and prosecutors were not holding drivers accountable for hurting people even when they clearly broke the law. The Right of Way Law does not criminalize drivers “in almost every case” that they injure someone — it applies strictly to crashes in which people are walking or biking and following all the rules, only to get hit by a driver who violated their right of way.

Read more…

8 Comments

NYPD: No Charges for Driver Who Killed Man in Brooklyn Crosswalk

NYPD filed no charges against the driver who killed Martin Hernandez Tufino as he crossed the street in a crosswalk. The red arrow represents the movement of the driver and the white arrow the movement of the victim, according to information released by NYPD. Image: Google Maps

NYPD filed no charges against the driver who killed Martin Hernandez Tufino as he crossed the street in a crosswalk. The red arrow represents the movement of the driver and the white arrow the movement of the victim, according to information released by NYPD. Image: Google Maps

NYPD said charges probably won’t be filed against the driver of a private bus who ran over and killed a man in a Brooklyn crosswalk, though it appears the victim was crossing with the right of way.

Police said Martin Hernandez Tufino, 64, was crossing Avenue M north to south at around 2:11 p.m. Friday when the driver struck him with a Freightliner bus while turning right from Coney Island Avenue, according to Gothamist.

From the Daily News:

The man was in the crosswalk and was caught under the bus’s front wheels. He suffered a massive head injury, horrified witnesses told police.

He died at the scene.

Though Tufino was in a marked crosswalk and would presumably have had the right of way, anonymous police sources told the Daily News “no charges were expected.”

It would not be unusual for the driver in this case to avoid penalty. Since the Right of Way Law took effect last August, motorists have injured and killed thousands of New York City pedestrians, yet as of this month NYPD had applied the law just 17 times.

Read more…

19 Comments

DMV Revoked License of Driver Who Killed Allison Liao for Just 30 Days

The motorist who killed 3-year-old Allison Liao could be back behind the wheel before long, as the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles revoked his license for just 30 days.

Photo: Brad Aaron

Following a hearing in early January, DMV administrative law judge Sidney Fuchs determined that Ahmad Abu-Zayedeh failed to yield the right of way when he ran over Allison as she walked hand in hand with her grandmother across Main Street in Flushing on October 6, 2013. The DMV revoked Abu-Zayedeh’s license, but the length of the revocation was not announced.

“The respondent failed to use due care, as required by VTL Section 1146, to avoid colliding with a pedestrian,” Fuchs wrote in his January 13 decision [PDF]. “There was no credible testimony as to why the respondent did not avoid this collision.”

Though Fuchs found Abu-Zayedeh at fault, he could be driving again as soon as March. A revocation period of “at least 30 days” begins on February 13, according to DMV documents. After 30 days, Abu-Zayedeh may petition the DMV to have his driving privileges reinstated.

Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao, Allison’s parents, were not available for comment, but issued a statement through their attorney, Steve Vaccaro: “While Judge Fuchs correctly determined that the driver failed to use due care, it is shocking to learn that this is the official consequence of such an outrageous act.”

The DMV does not publicly post records of hearing outcomes or license revocations and suspensions, making it exceedingly difficult to gauge how this 30-day penalty compares to other cases. However, driving while intoxicated carries a mandatory six-month license revocation, as does “homicide, assault or criminal negligence resulting in death from the operation of a motor vehicle,” according to the DMV.

Last year, Families For Safe Streets met with DMV representatives to recommend several agency reforms, including regular publication of hearing outcomes and other data. The DMV has not contacted Families For Safe Streets since then and has not said if it plans to reform its protocols.

8 Comments

In Brooklyn, Another Alleged Unlicensed Driver Faces Wrist Tap for Killing

An allegedly unlicensed driver who killed a pedestrian in a Brooklyn crosswalk last month was not charged with criminal negligence by NYPD or District Attorney Ken Thompson. Meanwhile, legislation to increase the penalty for causing a death while driving without a valid license continues to languish in Albany.

The motorist who killed Raul Leone-Vasquez was charged with unlicensed driving and careless driving, but was not charged by Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson with criminal negligence under the “rule of two.”

The motorist who killed Raul Leone-Vasquez was charged with unlicensed driving, a misdemeanor, and careless driving, a traffic infraction, but was not charged by Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson with criminal negligence.

Raul Leone-Vasquez was crossing Bay Parkway at Bath Avenue at around 6:35 a.m. on December 28 when Simcha Rosenblatt hit him with a Toyota Camry, according to the Bensonhurst Bean and the Daily News. Leone-Vasquez, 27, suffered head trauma and died at Lutheran Hospital. His death was reported by several outlets Wednesday, following an NYPD media release.

Rosenblatt, 60, of Lakewood, New Jersey, was charged with aggravated unlicensed operation and failure to exercise due care. The Bensonhurst Bean and WNBC reported that, according to police, Leone-Vasquez was crossing Bay Parkway east to west, in the crosswalk, and Rosenblatt was southbound on Bay Parkway. If that account is accurate, and Leone-Vasquez had a walk signal, it appears Rosenblatt would either have been turning from Bath Avenue onto Bay Parkway or he drove south through the intersection against the light.

Aggravated unlicensed operation is a low-level misdemeanor that stipulates that Rosenblatt drove without a license when he knew or should have known he didn’t have one. It is common for NYPD and city prosecutors to file a top charge of aggravated unlicensed operation when an accused unlicensed driver kills a pedestrian. It’s the same charge applied by police and prosecutors when an unlicensed driver commits a traffic infraction.

Read more…

2 Comments

NYPD: 1,399 Pedestrians and Cyclists Injured, 10 Killed in December

Image: NYPD

Image: NYPD

Twelve people died in New York City traffic in December, and 4,116 were injured, according to the latest NYPD crash data report [PDF].

Unofficial numbers from DOT indicate that 132 pedestrians and 20 cyclists were killed by city motorists in 2014. Drivers injured 14,922 pedestrians and cyclists last year, according to NYPD.

Citywide, at least 10 pedestrians were fatally struck by drivers in December: two in Manhattan, one in the Bronx, five in Brooklyn, and two in Queens. Among the victims were Blima Friedman, Gloria Ramiro, Ignascio Andal, Joan Hale, Denise Lippin, Jean Bonne-Année, Guler Ugur-Yaacobi, an unnamed female pedestrian in Queens, and an unnamed male pedestrian in Brooklyn. The victims included at least one child and four seniors.

NYPD reported no cyclist deaths in December.

Across the city, 1,210 pedestrians and 189 cyclists were reported hurt in collisions with motor vehicles. Per NYPD policy, few of these crashes were investigated by trained officers.

Based on NYPD data provided to Streetsblog, police applied the city’s Right of Way law in one fatal crash in December. No other motorist was known to have been charged for causing a death. Historically, nearly half of motorists who kill a New York City pedestrian or cyclist do not receive so much as a citation for careless driving.

In three cases, immediately after a pedestrian was killed, police exonerated the driver by telling the press the victim was not in a crosswalk. NYPD publicly blamed a child and two seniors struck by motorists for their own deaths.

One motorist and one passenger died in the city in December; 1,292 and 1,426 were injured, respectively.

There were 17,281 motor vehicle crashes in the city last month, including 3,118 that resulted in injury or death.

Download December NYPD summons data here. NYPD posts geocoded crash data here. Crash and summons data from prior months is available in multiple formats here.

After the jump: contributing factors for crashes resulting in injury and death.

Read more…

No Comments

Suffolk DA Stands With Traffic Violence Victims — Will NYC DAs Follow Suit?

To get a district attorney to talk about traffic violence on camera, you have to go to Long Island. Image: WCBS

To get a district attorney to talk about traffic violence on camera, you have to go to Long Island. Image: WCBS

On Tuesday, New Yorkers tuned into the evening news might have seen a district attorney standing with victims of traffic violence. But the prosecutor wasn’t from one of the five boroughs.

WCBS reports:

The families of four victims killed in hit-and-run crashes in Suffolk County called on Albany on Tuesday to enact tougher sentences for drivers who flee the scene.

The families, accompanied by Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota and state senators, demanded that the maximum sentence be increased from seven to 15 years for hit-and-run drivers involved in fatal crashes, WCBS 880 Long Island Bureau Chief Mike Xirinachs reported.

Spota said the state’s current hit-and-run laws are too weak and there’s no incentive to stay at the scene, CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan reported.

“Because that person has the opportunity to get to their house, sober up, get rid of their car or hide their car or deny that they were the drivers of their vehicles,” Spota said.

Spota was speaking in support of a bill to elevate leaving the scene of a fatal crash to a class C felony. The bill passed the State Senate in 2013 and 2014 but stalled both sessions in Assembly Member David Gantt’s transportation committee.

With Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver under federal indictment, what happens in Albany this year is anyone’s guess, but it’s nonetheless encouraging to see a district attorney publicly calling on the state legislature to act on behalf of people who have lost loved ones to reckless drivers. (Kathleen Rice gained national recognition for prosecuting drunk drivers for murder during her tenure as district attorney in neighboring Nassau County.)

New York City prosecutors blame weak statutes for making it difficult to bring cases against motorists who injure and kill, yet with the exception of Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson, none have announced plans to work with Families For Safe Streets to hold reckless drivers accountable, much less have they joined victims in urging Albany to strengthen state law.

Queens DA Richard Brown and Bronx DA Robert Johnson are up for re-election in 2015. Staten Island DA Dan Donovan, whose term is also up this year, is running for Congress.

2 Comments

So Far, Ken Thompson Is the Only DA to Meet With Families For Safe Streets

With Families For Safe Streets appealing to New York City’s five district attorneys to prosecute dangerous drivers who injure or kill, one DA has opened his doors to them.

Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson. Photo: Brooklyn DA’s Office

At a City Hall rally last Sunday, Families For Safe Streets announced that Thompson is launching the District Attorney Driver Accountability Initiative. “The new initiative is designed to address issues relative to Brooklyn,” said Thompson spokesperson Helen Peterson. “We have met with representatives of Families For Safe Streets and Transportation Alternatives and all of the five requests… are being discussed.”

That meeting was held in mid-December after Mohammad Uddin, 14, became the third student at M.S. 51 in Brooklyn to be struck and killed by a driver in 13 months. Council Member Brad Lander initiated the sit-down with Thompson at the request of the Uddin family. Thompson is hosting a follow-up meeting with the families, legislators, and other law enforcement experts on January 29.

“We need for the DAs to consistently hold reckless drivers who kill and injure accountable. The DAs have only brought a handful of cases each year,” said Amy Cohen of Families For Safe Streets. “The Brooklyn DA has said he will increase enforcement and we demand that others do the same.”

At the event on Sunday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said she would help FFSS gain traction with the Manhattan DA. “I’m a big fan, I have to say, of Cy Vance, so we will figure out why he’s not prosecuting in the way that has been suggested by the Brooklyn district attorney,” Brewer said. “As Manhattan borough president, I will take that on as an agenda item.”

Update: After publication, Vance spokesperson Joan Vollero offered a statement: “The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has been in touch with Families For Safe Streets to arrange a meeting, as we have previously with Transportation Alternatives and families members. Our door is always open.”

After a loved one is killed, families say they often feel cut out of the process that determines consequences for drivers. Families For Safe Streets is calling on the DAs to use “restorative justice” programs, which involve mediation and commonly offer alternative sentencing to juvenile offenders with the approval of the victim’s family. The goal of these programs isn’t to mete out harsh jail terms but to prevent repeat behavior in the future, and Families For Safe Streets wants to see this approach expanded to vehicular violence cases.

When Streetsblog followed up after the rally, DAs didn’t respond directly to the request for restorative justice techniques. “We always use the input of our victims to determine an appropriate plea,” said Bronx DA spokesperson Terry Raskyn.

Another request from families of crash victims is for the DAs to systematically compile and share data about charges and outcomes in vehicular violence cases. The Bronx DA’s office said it’s making progress on that front. Its information technology department is working to change its filing systems so vehicular crimes can be categorized separately for analysis.

13 Comments

DAs Insist They Don’t Call Car Crashes “Accidents,” Except When They Do

Queens DA Richard Brown, Manhattan DA Cy Vance, and Bronx DA Robert Johnson.

Queens DA Richard Brown, Manhattan DA Cy Vance, and Bronx DA Robert Johnson.

Among the demands Families For Safe Streets is making of district attorneys, one of the simpler changes is to stop using the word “accident” to describe traffic collisions. In exchanges this week, the offices of three district attorneys said in no uncertain terms that they already refrain from using the word “accident” in this manner. But that’s not actually the case.

Even former Police Commissioner Ray Kelly eventually came to the conclusion that the words we use to describe traffic violence matter. He directed NYPD in 2013 to adopt the word “collision” instead of “accident,” because “the term ‘accident’ has sometimes given the inaccurate impression or connotation that there is no fault or liability associated with a specific event.” An “accident” is unavoidable, absolving people of responsibility, but a “crash” or “collision” has causes and can be traced to people’s actions.

In statements, DAs seem to understand this and claim to have dropped the word “accident” years ago. But in practice, they continue to call it an “accident” whenever a driver kills someone without receiving any criminal charge — which means the vast majority of the time.

“Prosecutors citywide have always called these cases ‘crashes,'” said Terry Raskyn, a spokesperson for Bronx DA Robert Johnson. She credited pressure from DAs in getting both NYPD and the DMV to stop using “accidents” as an official term in 2013. “We’ve spent 20 years objecting at trial to the defense attorneys characterizing them as accidents,” she said.

Yet in an accompanying statement explaining why he does not pursue charges against more drivers, Johnson said: “The legislature and the courts have outlined the rules for separating crimes from accidents. We go to great lengths to gather all available evidence in such cases, and then evaluate that evidence based on the state of the law. We make every effort to do as much as the law allows.”

Johnson isn’t the only district attorney so quick to discard the more neutral terminology. “Since DA Vance took office in 2010, this office has used the following terminology: crashes, collisions, and strikes,” said Vance spokesperson Joan Vollero. “We do not use the word ‘accident.'”

But when former Police Commissioner Howard Safir struck a woman before driving off in 2010, Vance’s office described it as an “accident” before deciding not to pursue charges. When asked about vehicular violence in November, Vance himself said “a prosecution is not necessarily a following event after a tragic accident.” And just yesterday, Vance fell back on the word “accident” three times to explain why he rarely prosecutes reckless drivers.

Read more…