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Posts from the Robert Johnson Category


Sidewalks Are No Sanctuary: Driver Jumps Curb, Kills 3 in the Bronx

Nyanna Aquil, left, and Kristian Leka, were two of three people killed in the Bronx by a curb-jumping driver on Halloween, along with Nyanna’s grandfather Louis Perez. Photos via Daily News

Nyanna Aquil, left, and Kristian Leka, were two of three people killed in the Bronx by a curb-jumping driver on Halloween, along with Nyanna’s grandfather Louis Perez. Photos via Daily News

A motorist killed three people Saturday, including a 10-year-old girl, and injured three others when he drove onto a Bronx sidewalk crowded with trick-or-treaters.

Police told the media Howard Unger, 52, of the Bronx, was driving west on Morris Park Avenue in a Dodge sedan at around 5 p.m. when he hit another vehicle from behind multiple times, hit a bus, and drove against oncoming traffic before going over the curb near Bogart Avenue.

Witnesses said the vehicle struck the victims on the sidewalk and went airborne. Photos from the scene show the car atop a fence, several feet off the ground, outside 936 Morris Park Avenue.

Unger killed Nyanna Aquil; her grandfather, 65-year-old Louis Perez; and Kristian Leka, 24, who according to the Times “was holding his younger sister’s hand to keep her safe.” Perez’s 3-year-old granddaughter, Leka’s sister, and Leka’s fiancé were injured.

From the Daily News:

“The guy in front of my feet, his body was torn in half. He was dead already,” said Kristina DeJesus, a hospital administrative assistant.

There was a young girl on the side of the car. She was like, ‘Can somebody help me?’ I was screaming at her, ‘Whatever you do, don’t move!’

“I had no time to cry … to react,” she added. “My body went into help mode.”

Unnamed investigators told the Times and the Post Unger may have had a seizure before the crash. The Daily News reported that Unger “did not have a history of seizures or other health issues,” according to his mother.

“We are looking at every possible aspect,” said Joe McCormack, vehicular crimes chief for District Attorney Robert Johnson.

Read more…


DA Robert Johnson: Manslaughter Charges for Cab Driver Who Killed Two

Bronx DA Robert Johnson says cab driver Emilio Garcia was off his epilepsy medication when he killed Tierre Clark and Kadeem Brown. Image: News 12

Bronx DA Robert Johnson says cab driver Emilio Garcia was off his epilepsy medication when he killed Tierre Clark and Kadeem Brown. Image: News 12

District Attorney Robert Johnson has filed felony charges against the green cab driver who killed two people on a Bronx sidewalk.

Johnson’s office told Gothamist Emilio Garcia was off his epilepsy medication when he hit 5-year-old Tierre Clark and Kadeem Brown, 25, at the Grand Concourse and E. 170th Street on March 20.

Bronx DA Robert Johnson

Bronx DA Robert Johnson

Reports published after the crash said Clark also hit a 55-year-old man and a 39-year-old woman, who according to some outlets was Tierre’s mother, as they waited for a bus.

From Gothamist:

According to a spokeswoman for the Bronx DA’s office, Assistant DA Morgan Dolan argued in court that Garcia had been aware of his epilepsy, and had also been involved in a minor crash on December 31, 2014 — a few months before the crash that killed Brown and Clark. The earlier crash took place at East 149th Street and Brook Avenue in the South Bronx last New Years Eve, and resulted in minor injuries to another driver.

Garcia was charged with manslaughter and homicide, Johnson’s office told Streetsblog. Court records say he was arraigned on October 15 and held on $100,000 bond.

The Bronx crash resembles the case of garbage truck driver Auvryn Scarlett, who killed two tourists in Manhattan in 2008 after he went off his medication and had a seizure behind the wheel. Scarlett was convicted of murder, but last week an appeals court reduced the conviction to manslaughter. Prosecutors said Scarlett did not inform his employer or the DMV that he had epilepsy and that he went off his medication so he could drink.

Garcia’s trial is scheduled to begin in January.


NYPD: “No Criminality” as Cab Driver Runs Over Kids on Bronx Sidewalk

Several people, including a number of children, were seriously injured when a livery cab driver drove onto a sidewalk in the Bronx this morning.

At around 7:45 the driver, a man whose name was not released, “lost control” of a Toyota Camry at 229 E. Kingsbridge Road, according to NYPD. A police spokesperson said the driver hit one woman and four children on the sidewalk. Four victims were hospitalized in stable condition and one in serious condition, NYPD said.

FDNY said there were six victims: two in critical condition, three in stable condition, and one with a minor injury. The two critically injured victims were children, according to a fire department spokesperson.

NYPD told Streetsblog the Collision Investigation Squad, which works only the most serious traffic crashes, was dispatched to the scene.

WNBC reported that the driver was taken into custody this morning, but NYPD could not confirm. Unnamed police sources told the Post “no criminality was suspected.”

From the Post:

A passer-by comforted a 5-year-old boy as emergency workers arrived at Valentine Avenue and East Kingsbridge Road in Fordham Manor after the 7:45 a.m. accident

“I held his hand and he said, ‘I want to see my sister, I want to see my sister!’ He was so scared. I said, ‘Look at me! Look at my eyes! You’re going to be OK,’” said Nilda Guerrero, 57.

“He was crying and he wanted to hold his mother’s hand. I pretended I was his mother. And I held his hand. And I said, ‘Miguel, you’re going to be fine,’” she added.

“I heard a noise — a loud boom and a crash. There were people screaming. I ran over and there was a mother and daughter under the car,” said Migdalia Morales, 42, a parks worker.

“There was a little girl that had her legs stuck under the car next to the building,” she said

Read more…


Bronx DA Johnson Files Manslaughter Charge for Cyclist’s Hit-and-Run Death

Bronx DA Robert Johnson filed manslaughter and homicide charges against the driver accused of fatally striking Gabriela Aguilar-Vallinos and leaving the scene.

Bronx DA Robert Johnson filed manslaughter and homicide charges against the driver accused of fatally striking Gabriela Aguilar-Vallinos and leaving the scene.

Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson filed homicide charges against the man who allegedly killed cyclist Gabriela Aguilar-Vallinos in a hit-and-run crash earlier this month.

Aguilar-Vallinos, 27, was on her way home from work at around 11:45 on the night of September 11 when a driver hit her with a Hyundai sedan on the City Island Bridge. The motorist did not stop. Aguilar-Vallinos suffered head trauma and died at Jacobi Hospital.

NYPD released video of the vehicle involved in the crash. The Daily News reported that 25-year-old Michael Moreno turned himself in to Johnson’s office on Tuesday.

Johnson charged Moreno with second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, and felony leaving the scene, according to the DA’s office. Moreno was arraigned last night and held on $500,000 bond. The case will next go to the grand jury for indictment.

The top charge against Moreno, manslaughter, is a class C felony with penalties ranging from probation to 15 years in prison.

It is rare for a New York City district attorney to bring a homicide charge against a driver who is not also accused of driving drunk. Because of a loophole in state law, drivers who may be impaired can game the system by leaving the scene of a crash, since the penalty for hit-and-run is less severe than the penalty for causing death or injury while intoxicated.

Drivers who leave the scene of a crash in NYC aren’t always charged criminally, even when they kill someone. When prosecutors decide to pursue a case, they normally charge for leaving the scene but not for the act of taking a life.

Moreno’s next court appearance is scheduled for Friday. We will follow this case at it develops.


Ethan Villavicencio, 7, Killed by Motorist Inside Bronx Restaurant [Updated]

Update: According to court records, Oduro was charged with one D felony count and two misdemeanor counts of leaving the scene of an accident with injury, plus one traffic infraction. Class D felonies carry penalties ranging from probation to seven years in prison. DA Robert Johnson filed no charges for the act of killing Ethan Villavicencio.

A motorist drove into a Bronx restaurant Thursday, killing 7-year-old Ethan Villavicencio and injuring the boy’s sister and father.

Ethan, his 5-year-old sister and their dad were eating ice cream in Kennedy Fried Chicken at 3275 Westchester Avenue in Pelham Bay at around 5:30 p.m. when a man backed an SUV through the storefront, according to reports.

Ethan Villavicencio

Ethan Villavicencio

From the Daily News:

A Mercedes-Benz SUV reversed into the restaurant, shattering glass, overturning tables and pinning the boy against a side wall, witnesses said.

“There was a crater where the boy hit the wall,” said bus driver Luis Cruz, 52.

Ethan lay on the floor, conscious but barely able to move, Cruz said. His sister and father stood over him.

“The father was a bloody mess. He was covered with blood and he was trying to tend to his son. The blood from his face was dripping down on the boy,” Cruz said. “It was heartbreaking.”

As witnesses pounded on the vehicle, screaming at the driver that there were children under the car, the man drove away, heading west on Westchester Avenue before he was stopped by witnesses and traffic enforcement agents, reports said.

“One gentleman opened the door to try to grab the driver out to keep him from getting away,” witness Luis Cruz told the Post. “He [the driver] just pushed the gas and the person just couldn’t hold on.”

Ethan was reportedly conscious at the scene but died at Jacobi Medical Center. His sister and father were hospitalized.

Kwasi Oduro, 73, of the Bronx, was charged with one count of leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death and two counts of leaving the scene of an injury crash, according to WPIX.

Police said Oduro was attempting to park when the crash occurred. Video of the crash shows the driver backing parallel to the curb before accelerating across the sidewalk into the storefront, pausing for a few seconds, then speeding away.

Read more…


No Charges for Cab Driver Who Killed Two People on Bronx Sidewalk

Image: News 12

NYPD and the TLC are withholding the name of the cab driver who hit four people on a Bronx sidewalk, killing two. No charges were filed. Image: News 12

No charges have been filed against a cab driver who drove onto a sidewalk in the Bronx and killed a man and a young girl.

The crash happened at around 6:30 p.m. Friday. Reports say the 44-year-old driver, whose name is being withheld by NYPD and the Taxi and Limousine Commission, hit a parked car on a Grand Concourse service road, then crashed onto the sidewalk near a bus stop at E. 170th Street, about a block away, and ran over four people.

Kadeem Brown, 25, died at the scene. Five-year-old Tierre Clark died later at a hospital. A 55-year-old man and a 39-year-old woman, who according to some reports was Tierre’s mother, were hospitalized.

“The car came up driving on the sidewalk,” witness Ronald Luis told the Daily News. “After it hit the people, it hit the corner of the building and spun around. The whole front was smashed in.”

“On this side they were pressing on her chest — the little girl,” witness Raymond Fermin told WCBS. “I’m guessing also she couldn’t breathe. I wasn’t sure. The guy that was laying here on the floor — they weren’t giving him any treatment. I guess he was already gone.”

Photos and video footage from the scene show the heavily-damaged cab at rest against a building. WABC noted that there are cameras attached to a neighboring building.

No arrests were made and an investigation is ongoing, according to NYPD and the office of Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson. News 12 reported that police believed the driver was speeding. The Daily News said NYPD was looking into whether the driver “was having a medical episode.”

Read more…


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.


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…


Unlicensed, Hit-and-Run Drivers Kill First NYC Pedestrian Victims of 2015

Motorists struck four pedestrians in two crashes in Manhattan and the Bronx over the weekend, killing two victims. One driver in the Bronx was charged with leaving the scene and reckless driving, while another remains at large. The Manhattan motorist, operating a vehicle with TLC plates, was ticketed for driving without a license, though NYPD blamed the victims in the press. The drivers were not charged for causing death and injury by NYPD or district attorneys Cy Vance and Robert Johnson.

Wesley Mensing was killed and Erin Sauchelli injured by the driver of a vehicle with TLC plates. The driver was ticketed for unlicensed driving but was not charged with a crime by NYPD or Manhattan DA Cy Vance. Photo via Post

Wesley Mensing was killed and Erin Sauchelli injured by the driver of a vehicle with TLC plates. The driver was ticketed for unlicensed driving but was not charged with a crime by NYPD or Manhattan DA Cy Vance. Photo via New York Post

At approximately 7:18 p.m. Saturday, Wesley Mensing and Erin Sauchelli were crossing E. 62nd Street at Lexington Avenue north to south when Aliou Diallo, eastbound on 62nd, drove a Mercedes SUV into them, according to NYPD, the Post, and the Daily News.

Mensing, 27, a noted golf instructor who lived in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, died at the scene. He was the first known New York City pedestrian fatality of 2015. Sauchelli, 30, was hospitalized with head and leg injuries.

Diallo was summonsed — but was not charged criminally — for unlicensed driving, NYPD said. Citing unnamed police sources, the Post reported that Mensing and Sauchelli were “not in the crosswalk,” and an NYPD spokesperson told Streetsblog they were crossing E. 62nd between Lexington and Third Avenue. Yet photos of the scene show the SUV sitting on E. 62nd just a few feet from the intersection, which seems to indicate that Mensing and Sauchelli were struck within or very close to the crosswalk.

NYPD has a history of relying solely on driver testimony when investigating pedestrian and cyclist deaths. Since the Right of Way Law took effect last August, expressly making it a misdemeanor offense for motorists to injure or kill people with the right of way, police have repeatedly blamed deceased pedestrians by claiming they were outside a crosswalk when they were struck by motorists.

NYPD had no information on how fast Diallo was driving, or how he failed to see two people in the street in front of him. Regardless of how the crash occurred, it is a crime in New York State to drive a vehicle if you know or have reason to know you don’t have a valid license. The investigation is “ongoing,” according to NYPD.

Also at issue is how an alleged unlicensed driver was allowed to operate a TLC-licensed vehicle. Saturday’s crash marked at least the second time in the past year that an accused unlicensed driver killed a pedestrian or cyclist with a livery cab. Streetsblog has asked the TLC for information on the livery base associated with the SUV Diallo was driving and whether Diallo had a current hack license at the time of the crash.

Read more…


DA Robert Johnson: No Charges for Driver Who Killed Child on Bronx Sidewalk

Bronx DA Robert Johnson filed no charges against the driver who hit 10 people, including at least three children, on a sidewalk outside a school, killing 8-year-old Rylee Ramos.

Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson filed no charges against the driver who hit 10 people, including at least three children, on a sidewalk outside a Kingsbridge Heights school, killing 8-year-old Rylee Ramos.

Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson filed no charges against a motorist who drove on a sidewalk outside a Bronx school in October, striking 10 people and killing 8-year-old Rylee Ramos.

New York City motorists have killed at least eight children age 14 and under in 2014 — one in the Bronx, two in Manhattan, and five in Brooklyn — according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog. NYPD and city DAs charged just one driver for causing a death.

On Friday, October 24, Sonia Rodriguez backed onto a curb outside PS 307 on Eames Place in Kingsbridge Heights as children exited the school after dismissal, according to the Daily News. At least three of the people she hit were children. A classmate and friend of Rylee’s was hospitalized, along with a 4-year-old girl and four women, the News said. Rylee’s mother was among the victims.

Rodriguez pinned Rylee to a pole with her car. “She must have not put her brakes on, and the car comes zooming out toward where the kids are coming out of the school,” witness Lenora Croft told the Daily News, which posted video of the crash. “What finally stopped the car was the green pole — and that’s where the little girl was standing.”

Rylee was pronounced dead at Saint Barnabas Hospital.

The Times reported in October that Rodriguez was questioned and released by NYPD. At that time a source with Johnson’s office told Streetsblog the crash was under investigation.

That was seven weeks ago. When as of last week the case hadn’t turned up in an online database of court records — likely indicating that no charges were filed — Streetsblog asked Johnson’s office for an update. Our message was not returned.

On December 11, the Riverdale Press reported that Rodriguez, whom the paper did not identify by name, “has not been charged, though police said an investigation is ongoing.”

Some perspective on “ongoing” crash investigations: The investigation into the death of 9-year-old Cooper Stock was officially open for months after Manhattan DA Cy Vance’s office told family members no charges would be filed against the cab driver who killed him.

Read more…