A driver who left a trail of carnage through East Harlem, killing an innocent bystander, has been sentenced to as little as a year in jail after she escaped charges for taking a life.
Robert Bond. Photo courtesy Deborah Bond
Simone Walters was driving down Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard on the night of July 21, 2011, when she struck Robert Bond at W. 119th Street, a short distance from Bond’s home. According to reports, Walters “never slowed down,” hitting another vehicle several blocks away and coming to a stop when she crashed into a parked car at E. 104th Street and Madison Avenue, having lost a wheel from her 2000 BMW.
Bond, a father of four, suffered severe head injuries and died hours later at Harlem Hospital.
Initial reports said Walters was charged with DUI, leaving the scene and driving with a suspended license. According to an online database of court records, no charges were issued for speeding or reckless driving. Since Walters’ blood alcohol content was measured at .06 percent, if a DUI charge was indeed issued, it was downgraded to driving while ability impaired. DWAI applies when a driver has a BAC of .05 to .07 percent or displays other evidence of impairment, and is classified as a traffic infraction, or a misdemeanor for repeat offenses.
Under New York State law, in order to sustain a charge of vehicular homicide, prosecutors must be able to prove that impairment caused a motorist to operate a vehicle in a manner that caused death. Presumably, since Walters’ BAC was below the .08 standard for intoxication, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance did not charge her with vehicular homicide. Walters eventually pleaded guilty to a top charge of leaving the scene of an incident that resulted in death, a Class D felony, and in June was sentenced to one to three years in prison.
A motorist with a suspended license, who has been drinking, mortally wounds a man, pinballs through more than a dozen city blocks, crashing into other vehicles until a wheel falls off her car, and is not charged for killing. How can this be?
To begin with, the DUI charge may have been compromised by state laws that give drunk drivers time to sober up after a crash. Prosecutors have tried for years to streamline arduous warrant procedures that prevent police from obtaining blood alcohol evidence from suspected drunk drivers, who can delay the process for hours.
“What they said was once the officer chased her down and got her, they took her to Harlem Hospital. She needed some work done on her,” said Deborah Bond, Robert Bond’s widow, in a phone interview with Streetsblog. “So after two hours, taking her blood level, it was down already. So they didn’t charge her with drunken driving.”
“After two hours,” said Bond, “of course your blood level is going to be down.”
As usual in a pedestrian fatality case, there is also the question of what additional tools, if any, prosecutors may have had at their disposal.