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In Brooklyn, Another Alleged Unlicensed Driver Faces Wrist Tap for Killing

An allegedly unlicensed driver who killed a pedestrian in a Brooklyn crosswalk last month was not charged with criminal negligence by NYPD or District Attorney Ken Thompson. Meanwhile, legislation to increase the penalty for causing a death while driving without a valid license continues to languish in Albany.

The motorist who killed Raul Leone-Vasquez was charged with unlicensed driving and careless driving, but was not charged by Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson with criminal negligence under the “rule of two.”

The motorist who killed Raul Leone-Vasquez was charged with unlicensed driving, a misdemeanor, and careless driving, a traffic infraction, but was not charged by Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson with criminal negligence.

Raul Leone-Vasquez was crossing Bay Parkway at Bath Avenue at around 6:35 a.m. on December 28 when Simcha Rosenblatt hit him with a Toyota Camry, according to the Bensonhurst Bean and the Daily News. Leone-Vasquez, 27, suffered head trauma and died at Lutheran Hospital. His death was reported by several outlets Wednesday, following an NYPD media release.

Rosenblatt, 60, of Lakewood, New Jersey, was charged with aggravated unlicensed operation and failure to exercise due care. The Bensonhurst Bean and WNBC reported that, according to police, Leone-Vasquez was crossing Bay Parkway east to west, in the crosswalk, and Rosenblatt was southbound on Bay Parkway. If that account is accurate, and Leone-Vasquez had a walk signal, it appears Rosenblatt would either have been turning from Bath Avenue onto Bay Parkway or he drove south through the intersection against the light.

Aggravated unlicensed operation is a low-level misdemeanor that stipulates that Rosenblatt drove without a license when he knew or should have known he didn’t have one. It is common for NYPD and city prosecutors to file a top charge of aggravated unlicensed operation when an accused unlicensed driver kills a pedestrian. It’s the same charge applied by police and prosecutors when an unlicensed driver commits a traffic infraction.

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NYPD: 1,399 Pedestrians and Cyclists Injured, 10 Killed in December

Image: NYPD

Image: NYPD

Twelve people died in New York City traffic in December, and 4,116 were injured, according to the latest NYPD crash data report [PDF].

Unofficial numbers from DOT indicate that 132 pedestrians and 20 cyclists were killed by city motorists in 2014. Drivers injured 14,922 pedestrians and cyclists last year, according to NYPD.

Citywide, at least 10 pedestrians were fatally struck by drivers in December: two in Manhattan, one in the Bronx, five in Brooklyn, and two in Queens. Among the victims were Blima Friedman, Gloria Ramiro, Ignascio Andal, Joan Hale, Denise Lippin, Jean Bonne-Année, Guler Ugur-Yaacobi, an unnamed female pedestrian in Queens, and an unnamed male pedestrian in Brooklyn. The victims included at least one child and four seniors.

NYPD reported no cyclist deaths in December.

Across the city, 1,210 pedestrians and 189 cyclists were reported hurt in collisions with motor vehicles. Per NYPD policy, few of these crashes were investigated by trained officers.

Based on NYPD data provided to Streetsblog, police applied the city’s Right of Way law in one fatal crash in December. No other motorist was known to have been charged for causing a death. Historically, nearly half of motorists who kill a New York City pedestrian or cyclist do not receive so much as a citation for careless driving.

In three cases, immediately after a pedestrian was killed, police exonerated the driver by telling the press the victim was not in a crosswalk. NYPD publicly blamed a child and two seniors struck by motorists for their own deaths.

One motorist and one passenger died in the city in December; 1,292 and 1,426 were injured, respectively.

There were 17,281 motor vehicle crashes in the city last month, including 3,118 that resulted in injury or death.

Download December NYPD summons data here. NYPD posts geocoded crash data here. Crash and summons data from prior months is available in multiple formats here.

After the jump: contributing factors for crashes resulting in injury and death.

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The Weekly Carnage

The Weekly Carnage is a Friday round-up of motor vehicle violence across the five boroughs. For more on the origins and purpose of this column, please read About the Weekly Carnage.

Hoyt Jacobs was killed by a truck driver making a right turn from Vernon Boulevard onto 41st Avenue. Image: Google Maps

Cyclist Hoyt Jacobs was killed by a truck driver making a right turn from Vernon Boulevard onto 41st Avenue in Queens. In 2008, DOT chose to maintain parking, rather than install bike lanes, on the segment of Vernon Boulevard where Jacobs was killed. Image: Google Maps

Fatal Crashes (4 Killed Since Jan. 9, 8 This Year*, 1 Driver Charged**)

  • Long Island City: Hoyt Jacobs, 36, Struck on Bicycle by Private Sanitation Truck Driver (Streetsblog)
  • Bayside: 69-Year-Old Woman Struck Crossing Bell Boulevard (Streetsblog)
  • Jamaica: Patina Deygoo, 22, Killed in Backseat of Car When Driver Crashed Into Tree; Two Injured (Post)
  • Far Rockaway: Geovanni Balverdy, 19, Killed in Car Whose Driver Swerved Into Traffic (PostWNBC)

Injuries, Arrests, and Property Damage

  • Cambria Heights: Unlicensed Driver Hits 6-Year-Old Boy Stepping Off School Bus (News)
  • UWS: Driver Strikes Pedestrian at 97th Street and Columbus Avenue (DNA)
  • Ditmars: Pedestrian Struck at Ditmars Boulevard and 31 Street; CIS Requested (@NYScanner)
  • Midtown: Coach Bus Driver Slams Into Wall of Port Authority Terminal (News)
  • Flatbush: Van Driver Hits, Critically Injures Man on Ocean Avenue (Post)
  • Forest Hills: MTA Bus Involved in Seven-Car Pile-Up on Metropolitan Avenue (TL)
  • Brooklyn: Tractor-Trailer Overturns on Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (@NYScanner)
  • Dozens of Weather-Related Pile-Ups Lead to 911 Backlog, Suspended Bus Service (Post, WABC)
  • Schuylerville: 14-Year-Old Boy Hits Parked Cars With Van, Attempts to Ram Police Cruiser (Post, News)
  • Staten Island: Three MTA Buses Involved in Separate Crashes, Injuring Passengers (Advance)
  • St. George: Icy Road Blamed for 15 Car Pile-Up on Richmond Road and Clove Road (Advance)

* Based on latest available reports
** Drivers known to have been charged for causing a death in 2015

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The Weekly Carnage

The Weekly Carnage is a Friday round-up of motor vehicle violence across the five boroughs. For more on the origins and purpose of this column, please read About the Weekly Carnage.

A hit-and-run driver killed Guler Ugur-Yaacobi in Morningside Heights on New Year’s Eve. Prezidor Porbeni was later charged with felony leaving the scene and unlicensed driving, court records say. NYPD and Manhattan DA Cy Vance did not charge Porbeni for causing a death. Photo: LinkedIn via Daily News

A hit-and-run driver killed pedestrian Guler Ugur-Yaacobi in Morningside Heights on New Year’s Eve. Prezidor Porbeni was later charged with felony leaving the scene and unlicensed driving, court records say. NYPD and Manhattan DA Cy Vance did not charge Porbeni for causing a death. Photo: LinkedIn via Daily News

Fatal Crashes (4 Killed Since Jan. 1*, 1 Driver Charged**)

  • Upper East Side: Wesley Mensing, 27, Struck by Uber Driver While Crossing Street With Girlfriend, Who Was Injured; No Charges Filed (Streetsblog 1, 2)
  • Edenwald: Dylon Ramirez, 16, Killed by Hit-and-Run Driver; 15-Year-Old Girl Critical (News,Post
  • Morningside Heights: Guler Ugur-Yaacobi, 44, Killed in Hit-and-Run on New Years Eve; Driver Later Charged With Leaving Scene, Driving With Suspended License (News, DNA)****
  • Verrazano-Narrows Bridge: Thomas Choi, 62, Struck in 2013, Dies From Injuries (WCBS)****
  • Cross Bronx Expressway: Pamela Pimental, 27, Killed When Driver Rear-Ends Livery Cab; Driver Charged With Homicide, DWI (Post)
  • Kensington: Jose Hoffman, 56, Killed in Four-Car Crash; 1 Injured (Bklyn Paper)

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DMV Judge Delays Action Against License of Driver Who Killed Allison Liao

Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao speak to reporters after the New York State DMV failed to take action against the driver’s license of the man who killed their daughter Allison. Photo: Brad Aaron

Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao speak to reporters after the New York State DMV failed to take action against the driver’s license of the man who killed their daughter Allison. Photos: Brad Aaron

An administrative law judge for the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles today deferred a decision concerning the driver’s license of the motorist who killed 3-year-old Allison Liao.

In a packed hearing room at a DMV office in Jamaica, Sidney Fuchs watched video that showed an SUV driven by Ahmad Abu-Zayedeh run over Allison as she and her grandmother, Chin Hua Liao, crossed Main Street in Flushing, in a crosswalk with a walk signal. And he heard from police investigators, including the officer who summonsed Abu-Zayedeh for failure to yield and careless driving.

“My entire family has been suffering heartbreaking pain,” said Chin Hua, who stopped several times to compose herself as she described the crash via a translator. “It’s better to revoke the driver’s driver’s license.”

Fuchs twice asked Abu-Zayedeh if he wished to testify on his own behalf and, through his attorney, Abu-Zayedeh twice declined to speak. Fuchs rejected a request from Abu-Zayedeh’s attorney to dismiss the video, which Abu-Zayedeh has refused to watch, on the grounds that the person who gave it to police was not at the hearing to vouch for its authenticity.

Fuchs refused to consider documentation offered by the Liao’s attorney, Steve Vaccaro, that Abu-Zayedeh had alcohol in his system an hour after the crash. According to a civil suit filed by Allison’s family, Abu-Zayedeh told police he had consumed two glasses of wine before the collision. He tested positive for alcohol in his bloodstream, the suit says, but his BAC was below the .08 legal limit for driving. “That would be an issue for some other forum,” said Fuchs. “I prefer not to go into that.”

Fuchs also refused to allow the admission of Abu-Zayedeh’s New Jersey driving record, which Vaccaro said “demonstrates numerous violations,” and indicates that Abu-Zayedeh once surrendered his driver’s license.

“I do have my exhibits and evidence,” said Fuchs at the conclusion of the hour-long hearing. “I’ve heard the testimony. I will reserve decision.”

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TLC: Driver Who Killed Man on UES Works for Uber [Updated]

The cab driver who hit two pedestrians on the Upper East Side last weekend, killing 27-year-old Wesley Mensing, was driving a vehicle affiliated with an Uber base, according to the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

Aliou Diallo was ticketed for unlicensed operation after the Saturday afternoon crash, which occurred as Mensing and 30-year-old Erin Sauchelli were crossing E. 62nd Street at Lexington Avenue, according to NYPD. He was not charged with a crime by NYPD or Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.

Though Diallo was cited for unlicensed driving, his hack license “appears to have been current” at the time of the crash, said TLC spokesperson Allan Fromberg, responding to a Streetsblog query. “We’re reviewing the circumstances at this time,” Fromberg told Streetsblog via email.

Fromberg said Diallo’s hack license has been suspended while the TLC “investigate[s] the circumstances surrounding the status of his NYS license.”

The Mercedes SUV Diallo was driving operates out of Schmecken, one of Uber’s NYC hubs, according to Fromberg. It is unknown if Diallo was picking up or transporting Uber customers when he struck Mensing and Sauchelli.

As Uber expands in New York and other markets, it remains unclear to what extent the company can be held liable for the actions of its employees. Uber is currently attempting to absolve itself of responsibility for a crash in San Francisco, where a year ago one of the company’s drivers ran over a family of three, killing 6-year-old Sofia Liu.

We will have more on this story as it develops.

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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.

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2014 Was an Improvement for NYC Street Safety, Not a Breakthrough

Last week, City Hall came out with the preliminary total for NYC traffic deaths in 2014. Pedestrian fatalities reached an all-time low and overall traffic deaths may have too, indicating that the de Blasio administration’s street safety policies made an impact in the first year of its Vision Zero initiative. With at least 248 lives lost, however, NYC streets remain far more dangerous than those of global peers like London or Berlin.

A closer look at the data reveals that while traffic deaths in 2014 dropped significantly compared to 2013, last year was more or less within the same range that has prevailed since 2007. To sustain significant, lasting citywide improvements in street safety, Mayor de Blasio will have to build on the policy successes of 2014 and redouble City Hall’s commitment to Vision Zero.

Traffic deaths in NYC have been steadily declining for about two decades. Since the turn of the century, a drop in fatalities among car and truck occupants, down from 146 in 2001 to a low of 52 in 2011 (though rising to 59 last year), accounts for most of the improvement.

The most encouraging signal in 2014 was that pedestrian safety markedly improved. Last year’s 132 fatalities were an all-time low, down from 194 in 2001, following a spike to 180 pedestrian deaths in 2013.

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In Memoriam

Left to right: District attorneys Richard Brown, Dan Donovan, and Robert Johnson are up for re-election in 2015. New York City DAs are a major obstacle to Mayor de Blasio's Vision Zero program.

Left to right: District attorneys Richard Brown, Dan Donovan, and Robert Johnson are up for re-election in 2015. New York City DAs are a major obstacle to Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero program.

For as long as anyone can remember, New York City has treated most drivers who kill other people as unwitting players in someone else’s tragedy. With a new mayoral administration and the advent of Vision Zero, 2014 was to be the year the city began in earnest to hold reckless motorists, including those whose negligence would ordinarily be considered as ineluctable as weather, accountable for causing injury and death.

And there were major victories, thanks to Families for Safe Streets, Transportation Alternatives, Right of Way, and electeds who understood that traffic violence, like other types of crime, is both devastating and preventable. The City Council and Mayor de Blasio enacted a legislative package prescribed by the Vision Zero Action Plan; Albany lawmakers authorized a lower city speed limit and an expanded speed camera program. Meanwhile, some members of the New York City press corps, which traditionally failed to discern commonalities among crashes, acknowledged traffic violence as an epidemic. It’s conceivable that the first six months of 2014 saw more progress in the struggle for safer streets than any other time since the city began ceding the public realm to motordom.

But after an auspicious start, the weak links in New York’s version of Vision Zero became apparent. While enforcement against dangerous driving infractions improved slightly, throughout the year NYPD marshaled a crackdown on pedestrians and cyclists, squandering resources the department could have used to prevent the motorist recklessness that causes most traffic crashes. Despite reforms purportedly instituted by former commissioner Ray Kelly, and new leadership at key positions, NYPD still doesn’t investigate the vast majority of serious crashes, and even refuses to collect witness testimony. NYPD failed to meaningfully enforce a new law that makes it a crime to harm pedestrians and cyclists who have the right of way, and police continued to publicly blame crash victims for their own deaths.

Though his role is vital to the program’s success, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton stopped attending Vision Zero-related events in its first year. For that matter, Mayor de Blasio had nothing to say about traffic violence in the last half of 2014, even as motorists killed several children.

Of New York City’s five district attorneys, none took up the Vision Zero mantle. Rather than work toward reform, prosecutors hid behind state statutes and legal precedents that favor drivers who injure and kill. City DAs remained silent when the state’s highest court again displayed depraved indifference to victims’ lives, as prosecutors who take traffic violence seriously voiced their disapproval. Grieving parents were turned away by those they believed were elected to protect them. To a man, in 2014 each New York City district attorney declined to prosecute a reckless driver for killing a child.

The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles emerged as a serious contender among governmental bodies derelict in their duty to keep dangerous drivers on the road. Due in large part to the efforts of attorney Steve Vaccaro, New Yorkers learned that the DMV license adjudication process works to the benefit of law-breaking motorists, not their victims.

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NHTSA Touts Decrease in Traffic Deaths, But 32,719 Ain’t No Vision Zero

Twenty-four-year-old Taja Wilson was killed near the Louisiana bayou in August when a driver swerved on the shoulder where she was walking. Noshat Nahian, age 8, was killed in a Queens crosswalk on his way to school in December by a tractor-trailer driver with a suspended license. Manuel Steeber, 37, was in a wheelchair when he was killed in Minneapolis while trying to cross an intersection with no crosswalk or traffic signal on a 40-mph road. One witness speculated that Steeber must have had a “death wish.”

Noshat Nahian, 8, was hit and killed by a motorist on his way to school in Queens with his sister, Nousin Jahan Nishat, 11. Photo: ##http://accidentsinus.com/Victims/detail.aspx?Victim=ea990b8d-8312-4526-bf61-b326706ffdf9##Accidents in US##

Noshat Nahian, 8, was hit and killed by a truck driver on his way to school in Queens with his sister.
Photo: Accidents in US

These are just three of the 4,735 pedestrians killed in 2013. Believe it or not, that was an improvement, down 1.7 percent from the year before. New data [PDF] from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that overall, traffic fatalities went down in 2013 — reassuring news after a disturbing uptick in 2012. But 32,719 preventable deaths on the country’s streets is still an alarming death toll. Tens of thousands of lives would be saved if the United States achieved a traffic fatality rate comparable to the United Kingdom, Germany, or Japan. The Vision Zero movement is growing around the country, but advocates are still trying to come up with a way to bring the movement for zero deaths to the national level, instead of just city by city. Moreover, though the overall situation improved in 2013, beneath the surface there were some disconcerting trends and facts:

  • Bicyclists (categorized as “pedalcyclists” in NHTSA reporting language) were the only group to experience more deaths in 2013 than 2012. With more and more people riding bicycles, the 743 cyclists killed in 2013 probably still represents fewer deaths per miles ridden, but it also reveals a blind spot in many places in the country that have yet to adapt their roads to the reality of more people biking.

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