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Matthew Brenner, 29, Killed Earlier This Month on Sands Street

Matthew Brenner, who was struck by a motorist on Sands Street at an on-ramp to the BQE near the Manhattan Bridge bike path on July 6, died of his injuries soon after, his family and friends report.

Matt Brenner. Photo courtesy Leslie Newman.

Matt Brenner. Photo courtesy Leslie Newman.

“We’re still just kind of reeling from all this,” said Leslie Newman, Brenner’s half-sister. “We don’t really know much. We don’t have a police report yet. The police did not try and call my stepmom or any of us.”

NYPD says it received a call at 9:35 p.m. on Sunday, July 6. Brenner, 29, was struck by a 25-year-old woman driving a 2010 Volkswagen Tiguan as she pulled onto a ramp for the northbound Brooklyn Queens Expressway from Sands Street. She stayed on the scene; he was transported to Bellevue Hospital in critical condition with head trauma. Today, police said the investigation remains open and no charges have been filed.

Police say Brenner was riding against traffic on the eastbound side of Sands Street when he was struck. “It sounds surprising. There’s well-defined bike lanes in that area,” said Patrick Malloy, one of Brenner’s friends. “He was a well-versed urban cyclist. He wouldn’t try something like that.”

“The impact that I saw on the windshield of the car was on the far edge of the passenger side, so he was really close to the barrier,” said Braden King, who passed the crash scene on his way home just after 10 p.m. and has helped connect the family to resources in New York since then. “It’s obvious that the car was traveling pretty quickly,” he said. “It’s an on-ramp to the BQE.”

Malloy had heard from Brenner’s mother that he could have been walking his bike across the ramp entrance from the sidewalk and was attempting to get over the barrier separating the road from the Manhattan Bridge bike path when he was struck. The south side of Sands lacks crosswalks at the BQE ramps, and there is no sidewalk between the bike path railing and the roadbed. DOT traffic cameras are positioned on this stretch of roadway and would likely have captured the collision. The family has hired an attorney to investigate the crash.

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Serial Unlicensed Driver Gets Misdemeanor Charge in Brooklyn Death

A man with an outstanding charge for driving without a license fatally struck a pedestrian in Brooklyn last December but faces only a second charge of unlicensed driving after taking someone’s life.

Two drivers hit Nicole Detweiler as she crossed McGuinness Boulevard at Nassau Avenue in the early evening hours of December 29, 2013. Detweiler, 32, died at the scene.

Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson. Image: ##http://www.ny1.com/content/politics/inside_city_hall/190291/ny1-online--brooklyn-da-candidate-thompson-responds-to-attacks##NY1##

Since charges filed by former Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes were not upgraded by current DA Ken Thompson (pictured), a man who reportedly killed a pedestrian six days after an arrest for driving without a license faces a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Image: NY1

Reports said the second driver to strike Detweiler was Roberto Amador, then 35. Amador, who was driving a box truck, was arrested and charged for driving without a license.

According to DNAinfo, Amador had been arrested less than a week earlier for driving with a suspended license after he collided with a cab on the Upper West Side. His license was suspended last May, the report said, because he didn’t pay “a recurring fee drivers pay the DMV for various infractions.” DMV imposed the fee after Amador accumulated six license points between December 2011 and May 2013, DNAinfo reported.

Court records say Amador was charged by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance last December 23 with second degree unlicensed operation, a charge that may be applied when a defendant is caught driving without a license after prior convictions for unlicensed driving, or when the defendant’s license was previously suspended or revoked pursuant to a drug or alcohol related driving offense. Despite the outstanding unlicensed driving charge when he hit Nicole Detweiler six days later, and Amador’s driving history, former Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes levied a top charge of third degree unlicensed operation — a less severe charge than the one applied by Vance — according to court records.

In other words, after being involved in a fatal crash while driving without a license, Amador was simply charged again for unlicensed driving, with no additional charges for killing a pedestrian. Charges against Amador were not upgraded by Hynes’s successor, current Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson.

Aggravated unlicensed operation tends to be the default top charge against unlicensed drivers who kill New York City pedestrians. It’s also applied against unlicensed drivers who commit non-criminal traffic infractions. Third degree unlicensed operation carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. State lawmakers failed this year to pass legislation to make it a felony to kill or injure someone while driving without a license.

Roberto Amador was released without bail the day after the crash that killed Nicole Detweiler, according to court records. He is scheduled to appear in court for the Manhattan unlicensed driving charge later this month, and is due back before a judge in Brooklyn in August. In the meantime, he remains free to drive.

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Can Atlantic Ave Become a Great Street? DCP Will Study the Possibilities

The Department of City Planning has launched a study of Atlantic Avenue between Vanderbilt and Ralph Avenues. The study area stretches two blocks in either direction. Image: DCP

The Department of City Planning has launched a study of Atlantic Avenue between Vanderbilt and Ralph Avenues. The study area stretches two blocks in either direction. Image: DCP

Atlantic Avenue is one of the most prominent streets in Brooklyn, but it’s also one of the most dangerous. The major thoroughfare, paralleled by the LIRR and a subway line just two blocks away, remains a barrier between neighborhoods, plagued by speeding traffic and lined with auto body shops. Can it become an urban street that welcomes people instead of repelling them? The Department of City Planning is going to look at the possibilities along 2.4 miles of Atlantic Avenue.

DOT made Atlantic the first arterial slow zone in the city to receive a 25 mph speed limit, and volunteers with Transportation Alternatives have adopted it as one of their advocacy priorities. Borough President Eric Adams imagines a completely revamped Atlantic Avenue with new development and pedestrian-friendly streets. “In ten years’ time we want to see a completely different Atlantic Avenue,” he told Streetsblog in April.

That effort is getting an assist from the Department of City Planning’s transportation division, which launched a study of Atlantic between Vanderbilt Avenue and Ralph Avenue. While it doesn’t cover the entire stretch to East New York and into Queens, these 2.4 miles includes key sections of Clinton Hill, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Crown Heights.

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Brooklyn DAs Ignore “Rule of Two” in Death of Pedestrian Maude Savage

The driver who killed Brooklyn pedestrian Maude Savage was charged for failure to yield and driving without a license, but he was not charged with criminal negligence under the

The driver who killed Brooklyn pedestrian Maude Savage was charged for failure to yield and driving without a license, but he was not charged with criminal negligence under the “rule of two.” Image via Daily News

An unlicensed motorist who killed a senior in Brooklyn last year has pled guilty to a low-level misdemeanor and could be sentenced to probation and a nominal fine. Though the driver was charged with violating two traffic laws, current and former district attorneys Ken Thompson and Charles Hynes declined to pursue criminal negligence charges under the so-called “rule of two.”

Maude Savage was in a crosswalk and crossing with the light at Sutter and Euclid Avenues on November 25 when Robert Brown drove a commercial van into her, according to reports. Video of the crash shows that Brown barely slowed as he turned left toward Savage, leaving her no time to clear his path. Savage soon died from her injuries. She was 72.

Brown was charged by then-DA 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. Court records say he was also ticketed for failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Charges against Brown were not upgraded after Maude Savage died.

The rule of two is case law precedent 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. New York City prosecutors reflexively cite the rule as an obstacle to charging motorists for killing, but routinely fail to bring charges in crashes involving two or more traffic violations. The circumstances of this crash — driving without a license, failure to yield — seemingly satisfied the rule of two, but neither Hynes nor his successor Thompson exercised it.

City prosecutors tend to pursue third degree unlicensed operation as the top charge against unlicensed drivers who kill pedestrians. (It’s also applied against unlicensed drivers who turn without signaling.) Third degree unlicensed operation carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.

According to court records, on June 20 Brown pled guilty to unlicensed operation in the second degree, a charge that may be applied when a defendant is caught driving without a license after prior convictions for unlicensed driving, or when the defendant’s license was previously suspended or revoked pursuant to a drug or alcohol related driving offense. Second degree unlicensed operation is a more serious charge, but it’s still an unclassified misdemeanor. Penalties may include jail time, probation, and a fine of not less than $500.

Brown is scheduled to be sentenced in August.

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Unlicensed Driver Who Killed Brooklyn Senior Convicted of Leaving Scene

A jury has convicted a motorist who, while driving without a license, fatally struck a Brooklyn senior and left the scene.

Isabel Rodriguez. Photo via Daily News

Wayne Stokeling was convicted of leaving the scene of the crash that killed Isabel Rodriguez (pictured). Photo via Daily News

Isabel Rodriguez, 88, was walking with her 79-year-old sister on July 22, 2012, when Wayne Stokeling drove into her at Stone and Livonia Avenues in Brownsville, according to reports. Police tracked down his damaged BMW sedan a few blocks away.

Stokeling, then 50, “had an open warrant on a prior motor vehicle-related charge and four prior arrests,” the Daily News reported.

Stokeling claimed he was eating ice cream while driving and didn’t notice he’d run someone over. Unlike in many cases, however, the “I didn’t see her” defense didn’t work. Former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes brought several charges against Stokeling, but he was not charged with homicide for killing Isabel Rodriguez. According to court records, on May 23 Stokeling was found guilty at trial of leaving the scene and driving with a suspended license.

It’s unclear what penalties will come with this conviction. Court records say the top charge against Stokeling — for which he was found guilty — was a violation of VTL § 600.2(a), for leaving the scene of a crash involving injury. This is the same charge that resulted in a 16 day jail sentence for the hit-and-run driver who killed pedestrian Florence Cioffi in Manhattan in 2008.

Stokeling’s next court appearance is scheduled for July.

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Brooklyn DA Secures Rare Manslaughter Conviction for Pedestrian Death

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

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

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

From the Daily News:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isabel Rodriguez. Photo via Daily News

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

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

From the Daily News:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Imagining a New Atlantic Avenue for de Blasio’s New York

atlantic_parking

With the dangerous, highway-like conditions on Atlantic Avenue, much of the surrounding area is under-developed. A chain link fence surrounds this parking lot near Franklin Avenue.

Atlantic Avenue is one of New York’s most prominent streets, and in most respects, it is completely broken.

Stretching more than ten miles, Atlantic cuts through several neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens while functioning mainly as an urban highway for private motorists and truckers making their way east, toward the Van Wyck and Long Island, or west, to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.

It is plagued with constant, speeding traffic. The avenue’s wide, highway-like conditions induce drivers to floor it, and as a result Atlantic is one of the most dangerous streets in New York City. When Council Member Steve Levin took a speed gun out to Atlantic, he found 88 percent of drivers were going more than 10 miles per hour over the limit. From 2008 to 2012, 25 people were killed on the 7.6-mile stretch of Atlantic between Furman Street in Brooklyn Heights and 76th Street in Woodhaven.

When the city announced that Atlantic would become the first street in the “arterial slow zone” program, with a 25 mph speed limit and re-timed traffic signals, it was welcome news. Atlantic is the kind of monster that has to be tamed if the de Blasio administration is going to achieve its Vision Zero street safety goals, and the new speed limit is a good first step.

In the long-run, though, Atlantic Avenue and the many other city streets like it will need much more comprehensive changes to not only eliminate traffic deaths, but also accommodate the economic growth and housing construction goals that City Hall is after.

Today, much of Atlantic Avenue is an eyesore, especially along the stretch east of Flatbush Avenue. It’s basically an unsightly speedway, and land values along the eastern portion of Atlantic have historically been depressed. Empty lots sit beside carwashes and parking lots. Grassy weeds poke up through a decrepit median. Some portions fall under the shadow of elevated train tracks — the Atlantic Branch of the Long Island Rail Road, which otherwise runs below ground.

Does it have to be this way? Can’t we imagine an Atlantic Avenue that is an asset to the neighborhoods which surround it, rather than a challenge to work around?

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At First Vision Zero Workshop, Brooklynites Help Shape Boro Ped Safety Plan

Last night in Brooklyn Heights, at the first of nine Vision Zero pedestrian safety workshops, dozens of Brooklynites came to tell NYPD and DOT staff about dangerous streets in need of safety fixes in their borough.

Last night, the city hosted the first of nine Vision Zero workshops citywide. Photo: Stephen Miller

Last night, the city hosted the first of nine Vision Zero workshops citywide. Photo: Stephen Miller

These events, where groups of residents discuss traffic safety issues, are different than the Vision Zero town halls, which feature council members and officials from city agencies in a panel format.

Although Vision Zero encompasses all types of traffic fatalities, the workshops focus on pedestrian safety. “Pedestrians are kind of an indicator species,” said Kate Fillin-Yeh, DOT’s deputy director for policy, who noted that they comprise the majority of NYC traffic fatalities. “Streets that are most problematic for pedestrians are problematic for everybody,” she said.

Participants sat down at tables of about seven people each, where DOT staffers gave a short presentation on pedestrian safety in the borough, highlighting, among other things, the role driver behavior plays in most pedestrian deaths and the disproportionate impact on seniors. NYPD officers joined the groups at most tables.

After the presentation, each table talked about traffic safety problems and came up with potential solutions, covering everything from speed humps to better enforcement. Participants were also encouraged to mark large maps of the borough to identify dangerous locations. An online map to gather feedback will be launched soon.

“It was informative. There was a good exchange of ideas,” said Doris Cruz, chair of Brooklyn Community Board 10′s transportation committee. Cruz said DOT seemed to be open to more types of traffic calming, such as arterial slow zones, than in the past. Cruz was particularly encouraged to see NYPD participation last night.  ”Until this administration, it was kind of the bottom of the pile in terms of police responsibilities,” she said of traffic safety. “They have to retrain officers.”

DOT is hosting the workshops to gather input for pedestrian safety plans for each borough, which are scheduled to be released this fall. Fillin-Yeh said that in addition to the workshops and town hall meetings already underway, the agency could end up hosting more events to gather input. Since many street safety problems come down to nitty-gritty issues on a small scale, I asked Fillin-Yeh if DOT would be hosting workshops at a more granular level. “Most people don’t stay within their community board, so it’s more useful to do a workshop that’s a little broader in scope,” Fillin-Yeh said. “But if you ask, we’ll show up.”

The next workshop is scheduled for Tuesday at Brooklyn College, followed by workshops in the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan, and Staten Island.

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Local BID and CB 2 Ask DOT for More Safety Upgrades on Atlantic Avenue

If DOT follows through on local requests, Atlantic Avenue, here at Hoyt Street, could get some pedestrian safety upgrades. Photo: Google Maps

If DOT follows through on local requests, Atlantic Avenue, here at Hoyt Street, could get some pedestrian safety upgrades. Photo: Google Maps

Last week, Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn became the city’s first “arterial slow zone” with a 25 mph speed limit. Now, a business improvement district on the avenue’s western end is asking for pedestrian safety upgrades, and Community Board 2′s transportation committee has signed on.

“Pedestrian improvements are customer improvements,” said Atlantic Avenue BID Executive Director Josef Szende. “[Shoppers] on Atlantic Avenue are all pedestrians, at least at some point in their journey.”

The BID is asking DOT to study the following safety improvements [PDF]:

  • Leading pedestrian intervals at all eleven intersections within the BID area. (LPIs have already been installed at Clinton, Third and Fourth Avenues.)
  • Bus bulb-outs at corners to speed loading time for bus riders and shorten crossing distances for pedestrians.
  • Shared-lane markings for cyclists along Atlantic Avenue.

Community board staff refused to talk about Tuesday’s unanimous vote supporting the BID’s request, but a board member characterized the committee’s discussion as involving very little debate. Szende said the committee was skeptical of the need for shared-lane markings, since there are parallel bike lanes on Dean, Bergen and Schermerhorn Streets, but did not ask the BID to remove sharrows from its letter to DOT.

The committee did request that the BID also ask DOT about improvements to Times Plaza, the triangle between Fourth, Atlantic, and Flatbush Avenues. ”It’s kind of a drab triangle right now. It’s just asphalt. There’s no lighting, there’s no wayfinding,” Szende said. ”We’re asking DOT to take an honest look at these things, to consider them, and come back to us with whatever they think is feasible.”

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