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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.

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Families of Traffic Violence Victims Demand Justice From District Attorneys

Photo: Stephen Miller

Judy Kottick speaks about her daughter Ella Bandes, who was killed by a turning MTA bus driver in 2013. No charges were filed. Photo: Stephen Miller

Braving the cold, more than 150 people gathered on the steps of City Hall yesterday to demand that New York City’s five district attorneys begin filing charges against reckless drivers who kill and injure New Yorkers on the streets.

“The five New York City district attorneys have failed to do their job,” said Amy Cohen, who helped found Families For Safe Streets after her 12-year-old son Sammy was killed in 2013. No charges were filed against the driver who killed her son. “New York City has a culture of lawlessness on our streets, because reckless drivers are not held accountable,” she said.

Charges for reckless or negligent driving are exceedingly rare absent other aggravating circumstances, even in cases where the victim dies. Since January 2012, more than 500 pedestrians and cyclists have been killed by drivers in NYC, but in only two known occasions have city DAs filed homicide charges against a driver who was not drunk, fleeing the scene, running from police, or intentionally attacking the victim, according to records kept by Streetsblog. Fewer than 2 percent of drivers in non-DUI cases are prosecuted, according to Families For Safe Streets.

Families for Safe Streets is asking for five changes from the DAs:

  • Comprehensive Vision Zero training for all staff and changing terminology from “accidents,” which implies a lack of fault, to “crashes” or “collisions.”
  • Work with NYPD to widely prosecute misdemeanor driving offenses in criminal court, including violations of Section 19-190, also known as the Right of Way Law, which creates criminal penalties for drivers who injure or kill pedestrians and cyclists with the right of way.
  • Significantly increase the number of reckless sober drivers charged with felony crimes and lead the charge for city and state legislative changes that may be necessary.
  • Introduce “restorative justice” and other alternative sentencing practices as part of the pre-plea conference for vehicular violence cases, with the input of victims and families.
  • Systematically compile and share data about charges filed and outcomes in vehicular violence cases.

Three of the city’s five district attorneys are on the ballot this year: Queens DA Richard Brown, who was first elected in 1991; Bronx DA Robert Johnson, who took office in 1989; and Staten Island DA Daniel Donovan, who was first elected to the position in 2003 and is now running for the congressional seat vacated by Michael Grimm. Ken Thompson defeated incumbent Charles Hynes in the race for Brooklyn DA in 2013. The same year, Manhattan DA Cy Vance faced only token opposition before cruising to a second term.

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Driver With Revoked License Not Charged for Killing East Flatbush Senior

A driver with a revoked license killed a senior in Brooklyn Tuesday. As of Wednesday he was not charged by NYPD or District Attorney Ken Thompson for causing a death.

The crash occurred in the 67th Precinct, where motorists have killed at least three pedestrians this year, and at least seven pedestrians since January 2013.

Will District Attorney Ken Thompson charge an unlicensed driver for killing a Brooklyn senior? Image: ##http://www.ny1.com/content/politics/inside_city_hall/190291/ny1-online--brooklyn-da-candidate-thompson-responds-to-attacks##NY1##

Will District Attorney Ken Thompson charge an unlicensed driver for killing a Brooklyn senior? Image: NY1

At around 5:40 p.m., Joan Hale, 71, was crossing Foster Avenue at New York Avenue north to south when the motorist, eastbound on Foster, hit her with a 2012 Subaru Outback, according to NYPD. Police said the driver, a 75-year-old man, was proceeding with a green light, but had no information on how fast he was driving or how he failed to avoid hitting the victim.

Hale suffered severe head trauma and died at Kings County Hospital. The driver was arrested for driving with a revoked license. His name was withheld by NYPD.

It is not easy to lose a driver’s license in New York State, even temporarily. Offenses that make a license subject to revocation include DWI, homicide, leaving the scene of a crash resulting in injury or death, and three speeding or misdemeanor traffic violations committed within 18 months. For all of these offenses, except one, the minimum penalty imposed by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles is a six-month revocation. Driving with a BAC of .18 percent or higher carries a revocation of at least one year. There is no automatic DMV penalty for killing someone with a motor vehicle.

State lawmakers have failed to hold unlicensed motorists accountable. Legislation to make it a class E felony to cause injury or death while driving without a license was rejected by the State Senate this year, and did not come to a vote in the Assembly. Another bill to require drivers with suspended licenses to surrender vehicle registrations and license plates did not get a vote in either chamber last session. As it stands, a $500 fine is the standard penalty for killing a New York City pedestrian while driving without a valid license.

Motorists have killed at least five New York City pedestrians in December, including a child and three seniors. In four cases, NYPD blamed the victim in the press. Last Friday a driver hit 64-year-old Gloria Ramiro as she crossed Third Avenue at 81st Street. She died from her injuries Monday. Police said Ramiro was “crossing mid-block,” according to DNAinfo. The driver was not charged.

To voice your concerns about neighborhood traffic safety directly to Deputy Inspector Joseph M. Gulotta, the commanding officer of the 67th Precinct, go to the next precinct community council meeting. The 67th Precinct council meetings happen at 8 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month at the precinct, 2820 Snyder Avenue. Call 718-287-2530 for information.

The City Council district where Joan Hale was killed is represented by Jumaane Williams. Motorists have killed at least three pedestrians in Williams’s district in 2014. To encourage Williams to take action to improve street safety in his district and citywide, contact him at 212-788-6859, JWilliams@council.nyc.gov or @JumaaneWilliams.

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Driver Not Charged for Killing Girl, 10, and Injuring Mother in Borough Park

Workers clean the street after a motorist struck 10-year-old Blima Friedman and her mother. The Daily News reported that, according to NYPD, the victims were crossing "mid-block." Police charged the driver for taking the vehicle without permission, but did not charge him for killing Blima and injuring her mother.

Workers clean the street after a motorist struck 10-year-old Blima Friedman and her mother. The Daily News reported that, according to NYPD, the victims were crossing “midblock.” Police charged the driver for taking the vehicle without permission, but did not charge him for killing Blima and injuring her mother.

A motorist killed a 10-year-old girl and injured her pregnant mother as the pair crossed a street in Borough Park Tuesday night. Blima Friedman was at least the eighth child age 14 and under killed by a New York City driver in 2014, and the third in the last six weeks.

The crash occurred at around 8:57 p.m. The Daily News cited unnamed police sources who said Blima and her mother Sara Freeman were “crossing midblock” on 18th Avenue at 60th Street when Bilal Ghumman hit them with a Honda minivan. But a police spokesperson told Streetsblog the circumstances of the crash, including who had the right of way, remain under investigation, and photos of the scene appear to indicate the victims would have been at most a few feet outside the crosswalk.

Police said Ghumman, 22, was northbound on 18th Avenue when he made a left turn onto 60th Street and struck the victims. Ghumman was reportedly working as a valet for a nearby wedding, and NYPD said he was driving the minivan elsewhere without the owner’s consent. Ghumman had an outstanding warrant for a drug-related offense, according to NYPD and published reports, and he was arrested and charged with unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.

NYPD and Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson filed no charges against Ghumman for killing Blima Friedman and injuring her mother.

From the Daily News:

The mother, apparently pinned under the vehicle, remained conscious after the collision and screamed for her severely injured daughter as both lay on the ground, witnesses said.

“We saw the lady and her child on the ground. She was in shock,” said witness Angel Santos, 18, who was walking to a bodega when he came upon the scene. “She was still on the ground. She was screaming, ‘Oh my God, is (she) OK? Is (she) OK?’”

The frantic woman was also grasping her belly, apparently in the first throes of labor, witnesses said.

“She was holding her stomach, she looked like she was in pain,” said Jasmine Torres, 19.

Freeman, 33, was taken to Lutheran Medical Center, where she delivered her baby. Both were in stable condition as of last night, according to the Times. Blima was declared dead on arrival at Maimonides Medical Center, NYPD said.

This fatal crash occurred in the 66th Precinct, and in the City Council district represented by David Greenfield.

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Ken Thompson Secures Manslaughter Conviction for Crash That Killed Driver

In an unusual instance of a sober driver facing penalties for causing a death, Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson secured a manslaughter conviction for a crash that killed a second motorist.

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##

Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson. Image: NY1

Last January, days after Thompson took office, Jermaine Filmore ran a red light on Eastern Parkway and hit two other vehicles, according to WABC. One of those cars hit a fourth car and then caught fire. The driver of the vehicle that caught fire, a Lincoln Town Car, was killed.

Thompson filed a host of charges, and this week Filmore was convicted at trial of manslaughter, assault, reckless endangerment, reckless driving, speeding, and running a red light, according to court records. Manslaughter, the top charge, is a class C felony, with possible sentences ranging from probation to 15 years in prison.

It is extremely rare for a city district attorney to file a homicide charge against a motorist involved in a fatal crash unless the driver is also charged with DWI or DWAI. As Streetsblog has reported before, prosecutors seem more inclined to pursue serious charges when a driver’s recklessness is highly visible. But it’s virtually impossible to discern which crashes might merit a vigorous prosecution and which might result in a tap on the wrist or, as is virtually always the case, no criminal charges.

Motorists have killed over three dozen Brooklyn pedestrians and cyclists since Thompson succeeded former DA Charles Hynes, and his office is known to have filed homicide charges in only one case, against the man accused of the hit-and-run crash that killed 12-year-old Joie Sellers, and maimed her sister, last July.

Filmore is scheduled to be sentenced in January.

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It’s Still Legal to Run Over a Child on a New York City Sidewalk [Updated]

An 8-year-old girl run over on the sidewalk outside her Bronx school Friday was one of at least two New York City pedestrians killed by motorists over the weekend. A woman struck while walking to work in Brooklyn Sunday morning was the second victim. No charges have been filed in either crash. NYPD and the Post blamed the Brooklyn victim for her own death.

Rylee Ramos. Photo via Daily News

A driver fatally struck 8-year-old Rylee Ramos and injured several others, including two more children, on the sidewalk outside a Bronx school. No charges were filed. Photo via Daily News

On Friday afternoon, Sonia Rodriguez backed onto a sidewalk adjacent to PS 307, striking 10 people, according to reports. At least two victims, including third-grader Rylee Ramos, were students who had just been dismissed from school. From the Daily News:

Rylee and her friend, Genesis Rodriguez, were only paces away from the school’s front door along Eames Place in Kingsbridge Heights when a blue Honda Accord hopped the curb and hit them about 2:45 p.m. The 55-year-old woman behind the wheel then tried to drive forward but all that did was “hit more people,” said Eliasser Lopez, 11. “It was something out of this world,” Eliasser said of the horror.

When the driver finally stopped, Rylee was injured beyond saving, though some tried to give her CPR. The car hit the girl so hard it crushed one of her lungs, family members said.

“[Sonia] Rodriguez hit a chain-link fence,” the Daily News reported, “a wrought-iron gate and a parked vehicle before pinning little Rylee to a pole, police said.” 

Ramos was pronounced dead at St. Barnabas Hospital. Genesis Rodriguez was hospitalized, as was a 4-year-old girl and four women.

Video posted by the Daily News, embedded after the jump, shows the car backing onto the sidewalk as Rodriguez appears to accelerate. Friday’s incident was reminiscent of a 2013 crash in which a motorist hit five children on a sidewalk near a school in Maspeth. Several children sustained severe, life-altering injuries as a result of the Queens crash, and one victim died days later from a reported asthma attack. The driver, identified as Francis Aung Lu, was not charged by NYPD or District Attorney Richard Brown.

Rodriguez was questioned and released by police after the Bronx crash, according to the Times. Streetsblog has asked DA Robert Johnson’s office if charges are being considered. Update: A source with Johnson’s office says the crash is under investigation.

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Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson: $500 Fine for Unlicensed Driver Who Killed Senior

The driver who killed Brooklyn pedestrian Maude Savage was charged for failure to yield and driving without a license, but Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson did not charge him with criminal negligence under the "rule of two." Crash still via Daily News. Thompson image: NY1

The driver who killed Brooklyn pedestrian Maude Savage last year was charged for failure to yield and driving without a license, but Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson did not charge him with criminal negligence under the so-called “rule of two.” Crash still via Daily News. Thompson image: NY1

An unlicensed driver was sentenced to a small fine and probation after he ran over and killed a Brooklyn senior who was crossing with the right of way, per the terms of a plea deal with District Attorney Ken Thompson. Though the driver was charged with committing two traffic offenses at the time of the crash, he was not charged with criminal negligence under the so-called “rule of two.”

Maude Savage, 72, waited for the signal before entering the crosswalk at Sutter and Euclid Avenues last November 25. She was mid-way across the street when Robert Brown drove a commercial van into her. Video of the crash shows that Brown barely slowed as he made a left turn, leaving Savage no time to clear his path. She died from her injuries.

Brown was charged by then-DA Charles Hynes with 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, according to court records.

Theoretically, the crash that killed Maude Savage should have triggered the “rule of two,” 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 regularly cite the rule of two as an obstacle to charging motorists for killing, but routinely fail to bring charges after crashes involving two or more traffic violations. True to form, Hynes and Thompson did not upgrade charges against Brown.

Aggravated unlicensed operation is seemingly the default charge against unlicensed drivers who kill New York City pedestrians. It’s the same charge that is applied against unlicensed drivers who turn without signaling. In June 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 an unclassified misdemeanor with penalties including jail time, probation, and a fine of not less than $500. According to court records, Brown was sentenced last week to a $500 fine and two years probation.

As of August it is a misdemeanor for a driver to injure or kill a New York City pedestrian or cyclist who has the right of way. Motorists have killed at least 13 pedestrians since the law took effect, and NYPD has applied the law once.

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DA Thompson Plea Deal: Serial Unlicensed Driver Fined $250 for Deadly Crash

A serial unlicensed driver who killed a pedestrian will pay a few hundred dollars in fines pursuant to a plea deal with Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson.

The recidivist unlicensed driver who killed pedestrian Nicole Detweiler was fined $250 after a plea deal from 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##

The recidivist unlicensed driver who killed pedestrian Nicole Detweiler was fined $250 after a plea deal from Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson. Image: NY1

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

According to DNAinfo, the second driver to strike Detweiler was Roberto Amador, then 35, who had been arrested less than a week earlier for driving with a suspended license when 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.

For the first offense, Amador was charged by Manhattan DA Cy Vance 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.

After the fatal Brooklyn crash former DA Charles Hynes issued a top charge of third degree aggravated unlicensed operation — a less severe charge than the one applied by Vance — despite Amador’s pending unlicensed driving charge. Hynes did not charge Amador for killing Detweiler. Thompson, who defeated Hynes in last year’s election, didn’t upgrade the charge, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.

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. State lawmakers failed this year to pass legislation to make it a felony to kill or injure someone while driving without a license.

In July, Amador pled guilty to the Manhattan charge and the court imposed a $200 fine, according to court records. On Tuesday, he pled guilty to aggravated unlicensed operation in the third degree for the crash that killed Nicole Detweiler. He was fined $250 and given a one-year conditional discharge.

The message from prosecutors is this: Don’t bother with a drivers license in New York City. So long as you aren’t drunk, the justice system will barely inconvenience you — even if you kill someone.

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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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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.