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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 Schmenken, 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 Sophia 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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NYPD: 1,295 Pedestrians and Cyclists Injured, 14 Killed in Traffic in November

Image: NYPD

Image: NYPD

Twenty-five people died in New York City traffic in November, and 4,222 were injured, according to the latest NYPD crash data report [PDF].

As of the end of November, 138 pedestrians and cyclists were reported killed by city motorists this year, and 13,523 injured, compared to 161 deaths and 14,721 injuries for the same period in 2013.

Citywide, at least 10 pedestrians and two cyclists were fatally struck by drivers: two pedestrians and one cyclist in Manhattan; two pedestrians and one cyclist in the Bronx; four pedestrians in Brooklyn; three pedestrians in Queens; and one pedestrian in Staten Island. Among the victims were Alex Davis, Melvina Hibbert, Edmund Chou, Julian Mendez Porres, Jenna Daniels, Latchman Singh, Mohammad Uddin, Robert Perry, Shan Zheng, Jason Aitcheson, and an unnamed male pedestrian in Queens.

Motorists killed at least one child and three seniors in November: Mohammad Uddin, 14; Melvina Hibbert, 76; Edmund Chou, 79; and Julian Mendez Porres, 88.

Motorists killed at least one cyclist whose death was not covered in the press.

Across the city, 1,017 pedestrians and 278 cyclists were reported hurt in collisions with motor vehicles. Per NYPD policy, few of these crashes were investigated by trained officers.

Of 11 fatal crashes on surface streets reported by Streetsblog and other outlets, one motorist was known to have been charged for causing a death: the Manhattan driver accused of striking Robert Perry and leaving the scene was charged with homicide. There were no reports of police and district attorneys applying the city’s Right of Way law following a fatal crash in November. 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 one case, immediately after a pedestrian was killed, police exonerated the driver by telling the press the victim was “outside the crosswalk.” In two cases, NYPD publicly blamed seniors struck by motorists for their own deaths.

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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.

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Does Cy Vance Use His Surveillance Camera Bank to Fight Traffic Violence?

In New York City, if you hit someone with a motor vehicle and keep driving, odds are you will get away with it. NYPD made arrests in just 25 percent of fatal hit-and-run crashes in 2012, according to Transportation Alternatives. And in many cases where the driver is eventually identified, a simple “I didn’t see her” is all it takes to satisfy prosecutors and police.

A hit-and-run truck driver nearly killed Wendy Ruther and her 3-year-old son Justin. Is Cy Vance putting his lauded video surveillance system to work on the case? Photo via DNAinfo

A hit-and-run truck driver nearly killed Wendy Ruther and her 3-year-old son Justin. Is Cy Vance putting his lauded video surveillance system to work on the case? Photo via DNAinfo

On December 1, a truck driver hit Wendy Ruther and nearly ran over her young son, Justin, as the pair walked to Justin’s preschool. The two were in a crosswalk at W. 65th Street and Broadway, DNAinfo reported, when the driver made a right turn, hit them both, and continued south on Broadway. CBS reports that NYPD has yet to make an arrest, and Wendy Ruther remains hospitalized with serious injuries.

“She recalls feeling the three wheels of the truck going over her,” said the woman’s husband, Aldo Lombardi.

The hit-and-run accident, steps away from Lincoln Center, a week ago Monday nearly killed her.

“She still cannot believe she is alive,” Aldo Lombardi said.

Wendy Lombardi has a crushed leg, a fractured pelvis, and a deep gash near her eye. The injuries came as she managed to save the life of her 3-year-old son Justin.

“He recalls being hit by a big wheel,” Aldo Lombardi said. “Wendy managed to push him off of danger.”

CBS says Aldo Lombardi ”was told that the Lincoln Center security cameras at the scene were pointing the wrong way,” and “no one got a close look” at the driver. “I would ask him to come forward,” Lombardi said. “I would like him not to be on the streets.”

It seems that in Manhattan, at least, NYPD and vehicular crimes prosecutors have a powerful tool to help catch hit-and-run drivers, and collect evidence for other traffic crash cases. The recent New York Times profile of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance described a web of video surveillance cameras spanning the borough, with access at investigators’ fingertips.

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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 cab driver struck a pedestrian at Broadway and West

A cab driver struck a pedestrian at W. 69th and Broadway. Neither NYPD nor FDNY had details on the pedestrian’s condition.  Photo: @PedestrianTom

Fatal Crashes (3 Killed This Week; 194 This Year*)

  • Jamaica Estates: Ignascio Andal, 84, Hit by 17-Year-Old on Street Without Sidewalks (Streetsblog)
  • East Flatbush: Joan Hale, 71, Struck by Driver With Revoked License (Streetsblog)
  • UES: Gloria Ramiro, 64, Struck by Van Driver on Third Avenue; No Known Charges (DNA)
  • Flushing: Woman, 72, Struck by Van Driver on Union Street (WNYC)***

Injuries, Arrests, and Property Damage

  • Gravesend: Nine-Year-Old Struck, Critically Injured on McDonald Avenue (NewsPost)
  • Midtown: Driver Injures Five Pedestrians, Two Critically, Crashes Into Storefront (DNA, Post)**
  • UWS: Cab Driver Hits Pedestrian at 69th and Broadway (WSR)
  • Crown Heights: NYPD Officer Struck by Driver Who Fled Scene (@NYScanner)
  • Ridgewood: Pedestrian Struck at Greene Avenue and Seneca Avenue (@VisionZeroNYC)
  • Highbridge: 12 Injured in Five-Car Collision Involving Drunk Driver on Major Deegan (Post
  • Williamsburg: Two NYPD Officers Injured in Collision (@NYScanner)
  • Eltingville: Two Seriously Injured in Crash That Overturned Vehicle (Advance)
  • Greenwich Village: Drunken Taxi Passenger Jumps in Driver’s Seat, Drives a Mile (Post)

* Based on latest available reports
** Incident in which a vehicle left the roadway
*** Crash occurred prior to this week and is not included in the weekly count

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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.