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Streets of NYC a Little Safer Today Thanks to Judge, NYPD, and Cy Vance

There’s one less reckless driver on the streets of New York today thanks to NYPD, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, and Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Jill Konviser.

Andy Tang: "I was exceeding the speed limit although I did not hit 100 miles per hour."

Adam Tang: “I was exceeding the speed limit although I did not hit 100 miles per hour.”

After Adam Tang posted a video of himself speeding around Manhattan, he was tracked down by NYPD. Tang’s car was taken away, and Vance charged him with reckless driving and second degree reckless endangerment, according to court records.

Under New York State law, “A person is guilty of reckless endangerment in the second degree when he recklessly engages in conduct which creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person.” In lay terms, reckless endangerment requires proof that a driver was aware of a risk of seriously injuring someone else, says attorney Steve Vaccaro. Speeding was the leading cause of NYC traffic fatalities in 2012.

Second degree reckless endangerment is a class A misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail. According to the Daily News, Tang’s attorney Greg Gomez rejected a plea deal for 60 days in jail and 15 days of community service.

Tang pled not guilty in court today and asked for his license and passport to be returned. But Judge Konviser agreed with ADA Mary Weisgerber that Tang should not be driving.

“He videotaped himself circumnavigating Manhattan at a high rate of speed. He admits doing this,” Weisgerber said.

“He certainly should not have his license back.”

Konviser agreed, noting his “conduct, if true” was “extremely dangerous.”

“I don’t think he should have his passport or his license,” she said.

Gomez argued that charges would probably have been reduced or dismissed “if not for the ‘sensational and exciting video’ that ‘people loved and watched hundreds of thousands of times’” — a video otherwise known as “the evidence.”

“I was exceeding the speed limit although I did not hit 100 miles per hour,” Tang reportedly told police after he was arrested last September. Since a pedestrian hit by a driver traveling at 40 miles per hour has a 15 percent chance of surviving, Tang wouldn’t have to get anywhere close to 100 to pose a deadly risk.

“A jury will find what he did was not reckless,” said Gomez. While it’s certainly possible that a jury will side with his client, Tang’s behavior endangered lives, and NYPD and Vance deserve credit for keeping him off the streets for as long as they can. Huzzah.

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Will Other NYC DAs Join Cy Vance in Getting Behind Vision Zero?

All five New York City district attorneys were invited to Monday’s City Council Vision Zero hearing, according to the office of transportation committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez. Yet Manhattan DA Cy Vance was the only one who participated.

Due to time constraints, Vance Chief Assistant DA Karen Friedman Agnifilo was not able to read all of her remarks [PDF], which included a number of substantive recommendations for city and state lawmakers, as well as NYPD. We’ve summarized those recommendations below, but first: There has been a lot of talk about how Vision Zero’s success hinges in no small part on Mayor de Blasio’s ability to sway Albany. While this is as true as it is troubling, the role of city DAs should not be overlooked.

Not only does Vision Zero depend on prosecutors to hold reckless motorists accountable, district attorneys can be powerful messengers, and their support could be key to the city’s efforts to lower the speed limit, expand automated enforcement, and implement other initiatives that require action by the state legislature. If you’re a New York City voter who cares about street safety, it wouldn’t hurt to let your DA know you are taking note of his involvement, or lack thereof, in Vision Zero.

Here are Vance’s recommendations, beginning with those that fall under the purview of the mayor, the City Council, and NYPD:

  • Broaden NYPD investigations to include crashes that result in “serious physical injury.” While NYPD announced a year ago that the department would no longer only investigate crashes where the victim was killed or “likely to die,” the current “critical injury” standard still limits investigations to “a patient either receiving CPR, in respiratory arrest, or requiring and receiving life sustaining ventilator/circulatory support,” as defined under FDNY guidelines. Serious physical injury, Agnifilo said, is injury “which creates a substantial risk of death, or which causes death or serious and protracted disfigurement, protracted impairment of health or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ.” If NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad “had the capacity to respond to all cases that would potentially result in either serious physical injury or death,” she said, DAs “would be called to more crash scenes, allowing prosecutors to make appropriate charging decisions.”
  • Include DAs in TrafficStat. Advocates expect NYPD’s traffic analysis program, based on CompStat, to play a role in Vision Zero. While DOT participates in weekly TrafficStat meetings, according to Agnifilo, city DAs have not previously been included. Agnifilo said that bridging this communication gap would help prosecutors build cases. “For instance,” said Agnifilo, “unlike the NYPD Highway Patrol, most precincts in Manhattan do not regularly calibrate their preliminary breath testing instruments. As a result, we cannot seek to introduce the readings from these instruments at trial.” This is what happened when NYPD botched the investigation into the death of Brooklyn pedestrian Clara Heyworth, and her killer was convicted only for unlicensed driving and driving without an insurance card. “Implementing procedures to make sure that these instruments are calibrated on a regular basis in each precinct would strengthen our criminal prosecutions,” Agnifilo said.
  • Include DAs on the Vision Zero task force. According to Agnifilo, no district attorneys were asked to help draft the Vision Zero Action Plan. “We are the only law enforcement agency that is missing from the discussion,” she said. Agnifilo also invited members of the Vision Zero task force to attend quarterly meetings that are held by DOT, NYPD, and city prosecutors.

And here is what Vance’s office says prosecutors need from Albany:

Read more…

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Barron Lerner: It’s Time to Treat Reckless Driving Like Drunk Driving

The most basic flaw in the New York State traffic justice system is that in most cases it fails to hold motorists accountable for deadly recklessness. Unless a motorist is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, killing someone with a car is usually not considered a crime.

Barron Lerner. Photo: ##http://medicine.med.nyu.edu/medhumanities/featured-writing/lerner-why-history-of-medicine##NYU##

Barron Lerner. Photo: NYU

In a column for the Times, Barron Lerner, whose 9-year-old nephew Cooper Stock was killed by a cab driver in Manhattan this month, says it’s time to treat reckless driving like drunk driving. “Reckless driving, circa 2014, is what drunk driving was prior to 1980: it is poorly defined in the law, sometimes poorly investigated by police and almost never results in a criminal charge,” he writes.

An NYU professor and author of “One for the Road: Drunk Driving Since 1900,” Lerner writes that today’s attitudes toward everyday recklessness resemble societal and legal norms during the decades when efforts to criminalize drunk driving were met with “cultural indifference.”

Well into the 1970s, police and prosecutors looked the other way, seeing drunk drivers either as diseased alcoholics, young men sowing their wild oats or, paradoxically, victims themselves, even if they killed or maimed people. Judges and juries — perhaps because they, too, secretly drank and drove or knew those who did — were reluctant to convict.

Police told family members that their loved ones — the actual victims — had been “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Crashes were called accidents.

This is, of course, exactly how law enforcement reacts to crashes like the one that killed Cooper Stock, who was in a crosswalk with his father when both were hit by a cab driver who reportedly took a turn without slowing down. No charges were filed against the driver, and no action was taken against his hack license.

“The police reassured my brother-in-law, Dr. Richard G. Stock, who was holding Cooper’s hand at the time of the crash, that a Breathalyzer done at the scene was negative,” Lerner writes. “Yet merely looking for alcohol or drug involvement by the driver misses the point.”

In the 80s, Lerner writes, collective action by parents and other loved ones, through groups like MADD, forced a “sea change” that brought about laws that toughened penalties and lowered legally acceptable blood alcohol levels. Their activism also attached a social stigma to driving drunk, making the public realize that “drunk drivers were still responsible for the damage they caused, even though the harms they inflicted were unintentional.”

Lerner says a similar shift is needed if New York City is to achieve Vision Zero. “If Cooper died because an impatient or distracted driver made a careless decision, then that driver should be as guilty of a crime as someone who drank alcohol or used drugs before driving,” he writes. “Let’s make destruction caused by irresponsible driving a true crime. And let’s do it soon.”

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Maude Savage and Akkas Ali, Struck by Motorists in 2013, Die From Injuries

The driver of this van barely slowed down as he turned into an occupied crosswalk, striking a senior. Image via Daily News. Video after the jump.

Charged for driving without a license, the maximum penalty against the motorist who fatally struck senior Maude Savage remains 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Image via Daily News

Maude Savage, the 72-year-old who was hit by a motorist in a Brooklyn crosswalk last November, died from her injuries. Though video showed Savage was crossing with the light, charges were not upgraded against the commercial driver who took a corner at speed, striking her a few feet from a grocery store she had just walked out of. After Savage’s death, the maximum penalty against the driver, who was charged the day of the crash with driving without a license, remains 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.

The crash occurred in the early afternoon of November 25 at Sutter and Euclid Avenues. In a security video, you could see Savage waiting for the pedestrian signal and looking both ways before stepping into the street. When she was midway across, the driver of a van covered in DirecTV logos entered the crosswalk, barely slowing as he made a left-hand turn. Savage tried to get out of his path, but the driver struck her with the front end of the van.

Robert Brown was charged by then-District Attorney Charles 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. He was also ticketed for failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

Reports in the aftermath of the crash said Savage was hospitalized with head injuries. Though several media outlets covered the crash itself — stories were pegged to the DirecTV angle, though Brown was not a DirecTV employee — we found no follow-up coverage. However, the NYPD November crash report recorded one crash at Euclid and Sutter that month, which resulted in one pedestrian fatality.

Several times in recent years, prosecutors have pursued third degree unlicensed operation, a low-level misdemeanor, as the top charge against unlicensed drivers who kill New York City pedestrians. In 2011, Yolanda Casal and Laurence Renard were fatally struck by unlicensed drivers in separate crashes in Manhattan. Casal and her daughter were hit by a recidivist reckless driver as he backed up to get a parking spot; Renard was hit by a dump truck driver on an Upper East Side corner. In each case, Manhattan DA Cy Vance accepted a guilty plea to third degree unlicensed operation, and each motorist was fined $500.

Brown is next scheduled to appear in court on March 5, according to online court records.

Read more…

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9-Year-Old Boy, Mother, and Senior Killed in Weekend of Motorist Violence

Three pedestrians were fatally struck by motorists over the weekend, bringing to seven the number of people killed while walking in New York City in the first two weeks of 2014.

Twenty pedestrians were killed by city motorists in January 2013, according to NYPD data, and 12 pedestrians and one cyclist died in January 2012.

Cooper Stock. Photo via DNAinfo

Cooper Stock. Photo via DNAinfo

Nine-year-old Cooper Stock was in a crosswalk with his father at West End Avenue and 97th Street  at around 9 p.m. Friday when both were hit by cab driver Koffi Komlani, according to reports. A motorist in a car behind Komlani spoke with the Daily News:

“He had to be distracted because there’s no way he could not see them, if I did,” [Ramon] Gonzalez, 46, said of the 53-year-old cabbie.

“The father grabbed his son. They were both on the hood of the car for a second. The father fell off the passenger side. The son went underneath the driver’s-side tire, first the front one, then the rear.”

Komlani, of West Harriman, didn’t brake until after he’d run over the boy with both wheels, according to Gonzalez, the assistant director of an educational nonprofit who lives in Chelsea.

Richard Stock suffered a leg injury. Cooper died at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital.

Cooper Stock was at least the twelfth child age 14 and under killed by a New York City motorist in the last 12 months, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog. Year after year, traffic crashes remain the leading cause of injury-related death for children in NYC.

From DNAinfo:

The family released a statement about Cooper late Saturday, saying he loved the Yankees, rock and roll, and the Knicks. “Cooper was the life of the party even when there wasn’t a party,” the statement said. “He was light, he was reflective, he was beauty in motion, he was charismatic. He has been described as an old soul, and wise beyond his years.”

Komlani was ticketed for failure to yield on Friday. ”As of now, there are no disciplinary actions available to the TLC,” said Allan Fromberg, spokesperson for the Taxi and Limousine Commission, in an email. ”We’re awaiting the outcome of the NYPD investigation to make a determination of what options are available.”

Read more…

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Vance: Tour Bus Driver Who Killed Pedestrian Convicted of Manslaughter

A tour bus driver who killed a pedestrian in Hell’s Kitchen while driving drunk has been convicted of manslaughter and homicide.

Victim Timothy White. Photo via ##http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2011/05/08/philadelphia-man-killed-in-tour-bus-accident-in-new-york-city/##KYW-TV##

Victim Timothy White. Photo via KYW-TV

Steve Drappel, now 60, was making a left turn from 47th Street onto Ninth Avenue at around 10 p.m. on May 7, 2011, when he ran over 29-year-old Timothy White, according to published reports and a press release from Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.  White, who was in a crosswalk, was dragged for half a block before witnesses alerted Drappel by screaming and banging on the bus.

White was in town from Philadelphia to visit family and was walking to his cousin’s home after dinner, according to a DNAinfo story published the day after the crash.

“He was the perfect son,” his father Robert White, 67, said Sunday from his Pennsylvania home.

The devastated dad said his son had battled health problems and “was an inspiration to all of us.”

“Tim was a hero,” his mom Julia said. “He was a hero to all of us.”

Police found a cup containing vodka next to Drappel’s seat, and an open bottle of vodka in the luggage compartment of the bus, which reports said Drappel admitted was his. His blood alcohol level was .14.

The Post reported that Drappel had been in three crashes since 1997, and had citations for speeding and driving with a suspended license. Drappel was driving a bus owned by TraveLynx, a Florida company, for Chinatown-based tour operator L & L Travel, reports said.

According to the Vance press release, Drappel was convicted this week, following a bench trial in New York State Supreme Court, of second degree vehicular manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, and two counts of driving while intoxicated.

Read more…

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Public Still Doesn’t Know Why Cy Vance Failed to Charge in Sian Green Case

Last Friday WNYC ran a piece in which Bronx vehicular crimes chief Joe McCormack explained why he thought Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance failed to file charges against the cab driver who drove onto a Midtown sidewalk and severed the leg of tourist Sian Green. The story offers valuable insight into the mindset of prosecutors, but key questions about the case remain unanswered.

The public still does not know how Cy Vance decided that the driver of this cab, who hit two people and severed a woman's leg, should not be charged. Photo: @BraddJaffy

The public still does not know how Cy Vance decided that the driver of this cab, who hit two people and severed a woman’s leg, should not be charged. Photo: @BraddJaffy

McCormack said that in order to charge Faysal Himon with a crime, the Vance team would have to prove intent. ”What we look at in the criminal arena is when the mistake is greater than ordinary negligence and rises to criminal negligence,” McCormack said. “And what a defendant can be charged with depends on case law.”

Reporter Kate Hinds also points to the “rule of two,” an arbitrary standard 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, as a possible factor in the decision not to charge Himon.

Civil attorney Steve Vaccaro believes Vance might have gotten a conviction on misdemeanor charges — third degree assault and second degree reckless endangerment — that don’t require prosecutors to prove intent. As for case law and the “rule of two,” recent decisions by the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, have made it harder for prosecutors to secure ironclad convictions against motorists who injure and kill. But does that mean reckless drivers can’t be held accountable for maiming and killing innocent bystanders?

One Court of Appeals case in particular looms large: People v. Cabrera, which held that reckless driving had to be “morally blameworthy” to sustain a homicide conviction. Maureen McCormick, head vehicular crimes prosecutor in Nassau County, explained the Cabrera ruling to Streetsblog in 2009:

[A]s recently as May 2008, New York’s highest court held that a 17-year-old driver who violated his junior license by driving with four unrelated passengers, without seatbelts, and who also was speeding at 70-72 mph through a curve with a posted caution speed of 40 mph, and who lost control sending the car over an embankment and killing three of his passengers, could not be held criminally liable. This decision alone has resulted in numerous defense motions to have cases dismissed claiming that “speed alone” or any traffic infraction “alone” is not sufficient to sustain criminal negligence.

McCormick continued: “Our position is that this is nonsense. A person driving 100 mph in front of the court on Centre Street in Manhattan at lunch time when the streets are flooded with pedestrians MUST be chargeable with a crime.”

Court precedents do have a chilling effect, but as McCormick indicates, the “rule of two” is a defense strategy. It’s up to prosecutors and police to decide whether they want to cede the argument by never filing charges in the first place.

Read more…

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Vaccaro: Vance Didn’t Need to Prove “Intent” to Convict Driver in Green Case

Cy Vance’s office does not discuss vehicular crimes cases, even after they are disposed or when no charges are filed. After declining to prosecute the cabbie who drove onto a Midtown sidewalk and severed the leg of Sian Green, the DA’s office issued a short statement, but the only insight into the prosecutors’ reasoning came from the victim’s attorney, who said Vance’s team “indicated that failure to charge was due to lack of evidence regarding the taxi cab driver’s intent during the investigation phase.”

Attorney Steve Vaccaro, who specializes in representing traffic violence victims, said today he believes Vance had a reasonable chance of getting a conviction on charges of third degree assault and second degree reckless endangerment. Both are class A misdemeanors (the most serious misdemeanor category), and according to Vaccaro neither require prosecutors to prove intent.

Here are the relevant sections of state law cited by Vaccaro:

§ 120.00 Assault in the third degree. A person is guilty of assault in the third degree when … with criminal negligence, he causes physical injury to another person by means of a deadly weapon or a dangerous instrument.

§ 120.20 Reckless endangerment in the second degree. A person is guilty of reckless endangerment in the second degree when he recklessly engages in conduct which creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person.

Why didn’t Vance try to secure a conviction on one of these relatively low-level charges? The public may never know.

The statement released by Vance’s office yesterday says only that after an investigation by the DA and NYPD, “we have concluded that criminal charges cannot be filed in this case.” The statement lists the type of evidence reviewed — surveillance video, 911 calls, black box data — but gives no indication why that evidence was found insufficient to support charges.

“This decision has frightening implications,” Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul White told the Times. “Drivers have the most responsibility, because people behind the wheel of one-ton vehicles have the greatest capacity to do harm to others. The law should acknowledge that fact.”

Read more…

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No Charges From Cy Vance for Cab Driver Who Maimed Tourist Sian Green

The cab driver who hit a cyclist and drove onto a Midtown sidewalk, severing the leg of British tourist Sian Green, will not be charged with a crime by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.

By declining to test state traffic laws in court, prosecutors ensure that victims like Sian Green will continue to be denied justice. Photo: ##http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/tourist-lost-foot-taxi-cash-returns-england-article-1.1473524##Daily News##

By declining to test state traffic laws in court, prosecutors ensure that victims like Sian Green will continue to be denied justice, while reckless drivers remain free to endanger lives with impunity. Photo: Daily News

Here is a statement from Joan Vollero, Vance’s deputy communications director, released to the media today:

“Following a thorough, two-month-long investigation by the District Attorney’s Office and the NYPD, we have concluded that criminal charges cannot be filed in this case. In making this determination, prosecutors who are specially trained in vehicular crimes reviewed all available evidence and took into consideration relevant sections of the State’s Vehicle and Traffic Laws. They conducted interviews with multiple eyewitnesses, the taxi driver, the bicyclist, and injured parties, reviewed all available video surveillance, listened to numerous 911 calls, and retrieved the taxi’s ‘black box’ data. We are sensitive to the trauma faced by Ms. Green and others injured in vehicular crashes, and notified the attorneys and representatives for all parties last week of this decision.”

The August 20 crash attracted international attention, and Vance’s office and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly announced investigations, which is never a given following a serious traffic collision in NYC. Cab driver Mohammad Faysal Himon pleaded guilty to a suspension summons and surrendered his hack license on August 23, but reclaimed it a month later.

According to published reports, Himon has a history or reckless driving, with three moving violations in 2011, including citations for running a red light and doing 65 mph in a 45 mph zone, resulting in nine points on his license. He was also involved in another crash that resulted in injury, reports said.

After reportedly arguing with a bike messenger, Himon drove a quarter of a block on a Midtown sidewalk with the cyclist on the hood before slamming into Green. He confessed to the media that he intentionally stepped on the gas before mounting the curb.

“The Green Family is shocked by this news, and disappointed,” said Green’s attorney Dan Marchese, in a statement. Marchese said a Vance assistant DA “indicated that failure to charge was due to lack of evidence regarding the taxi cab driver’s intent during the investigation phase.”

There is no doubt that New York State laws can make it difficult to convict drivers on charges of deadly recklessness. But by declining to prosecute even the most brazen acts of vehicular violence, and failing to mount a concerted campaign to reform traffic code, district attorneys are ensuring that victims will continue to be denied justice. And in this case it also means a dangerous driver remains on the streets.

Said attorney Steve Vaccaro, who represents victims of traffic violence, via email:

I am stunned by the decision not to prosecute for lack of evidence of intent. To prosecute the driver for recklessness or criminal negligence, it is not required for the driver to have intended harm. All that is required is that the driver be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to have behaved with respect to the risk of striking or injuring others in a manner that constituted a gross deviation from what was reasonable. The driver’s own public statements would seem to be enough. This outcome tells me we need new laws, and perhaps also new district attorneys.

We will have more on this case in the coming days.

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With No Charges From Cy Vance or NYPD, Curb-Jumping Cabbie Driving Again

Six weeks after cab driver Mohammed Himon drove onto a Midtown sidewalk and hit tourist Sian Green, severing her leg, Green is back home in England. Meanwhile, Himon is again driving a taxi, as no charges have been filed against him by NYPD or Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.

Sian Green is back home in England, and after no charges were filed by NYPD or DA Cy Vance, the cab driver who maimed her is back driving the streets. Photo: Daily News

The August 20 crash attracted international attention — a young tourist horrifically injured on a gorgeous day in the heart of Midtown, her life saved by a plumber and celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz. NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and Vance’s office announced investigations, which is never a given when a motorist maims or kills in NYC. Himon pleaded guilty to a suspension summons and surrendered his hack license on August 23, but the Taxi and Limousine Commission says he reclaimed it on September 26.

“Without any action having been taken against him by the DA’s office or the NYPD, there’s no lawful basis for TLC to have held it beyond the 30-day suspension he served,” said TLC spokesperson Allan Fromberg, “so his license was reinstated.”

After a cab driver killed a senior in the West Village last year, the TLC told Streetsblog that unless a cabbie faces criminal charges, or a consumer files a complaint, the agency can’t take action against a driver who harms a pedestrian. Potential sanctions include the suspension of a driver’s TLC license, and additional actions can be taken based on the outcome of a case.

The Wall Street Journal reported in September that, due to a record-keeping error, for the past three years the TLC allowed 4,500 dangerous cabbies to keep driving without penalty, including 600 drivers with 10 or more points on their records.

According to published reports, Himon has a history or reckless driving, with three moving violations in 2011, including citations for running a red light and doing 65 mph in a 45 mph zone, resulting in nine points on his license. He was also involved in another crash that resulted in injury, reports said.

Himon reportedly drove a quarter of a block on a Midtown sidewalk with a cyclist on the hood before slamming into Green. He confessed to the media that he intentionally stepped on the gas before mounting the curb. Green has said Himon should be charged criminally. Yet city law enforcers and the agency charged with regulating cab drivers are either unable or unwilling to keep a habitually dangerous cabbie from endangering other innocent people.

Vance’s office was highly critical of our initial coverage of this crash, when we cited media tips from law enforcement sources who said Himon would not face criminal charges. Vance’s office would not comment when we asked about this case in September. We contacted the office this morning to ask if the investigation is still active. We have yet to hear back.

Update: Cy Vance’s office sent us this statement: “This case is an open and active investigation.”