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New York’s Top Court Exhibits Depraved Indifference to Pedestrians’ Lives

Court of Appeals Judges Jenny Rivera, Sheila Abdus-Salaam, Robert S. Smith, Susan P. Reid, and Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman ruled that Jose Maldonado showed concern for others’ safety as he sped through Greenpoint in a stolen van, driving against traffic and striking pedestrian Violetta Krzyzak with enough force to catapult her body 55 yards through the air.

Court of Appeals Judges Jenny Rivera, Sheila Abdus-Salaam, Robert S. Smith, Susan P. Reid, and Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman ruled that Jose Maldonado showed concern for others’ safety as he sped through Greenpoint in a stolen van, driving against traffic and striking pedestrian Violetta Krzyzak with enough force to catapult her body 55 yards through the air. Prosecutors warn that the decision will affect future cases against drivers who kill.

In a decision that may hinder future prosecutions of killer drivers, New York’s highest court rejected the murder conviction of a car thief who fatally struck a Brooklyn pedestrian during a high-speed NYPD chase — ruling that the defendant showed concern for others’ safety by swerving around vehicles and people as he attempted to elude police.

The ruling drew a rebuke from Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice, who is nationally known for seeking serious penalties for motorists who kill.

On the afternoon of April 27, 2009, Jose Maldonado drove a stolen minivan through the streets of Greenpoint. With police in pursuit, in apparent violation of NYPD protocol, Maldonado ran red lights and sped against oncoming traffic while weaving between lanes. When he narrowly missed a pedestrian who leapt from his path, Maldonado kept going. He hit 37-year-old Violetta Krzyzak at Manhattan Avenue and India Street. According to the Court of Appeals, Krzyzak “landed over 165 feet, or almost one block, away from the point of collision.” She died at the scene.

Maldonado did not slow down after striking Krzyzak. He crashed into parked vehicles five blocks away, court documents say, and was tackled by witnesses as he tried to flee on foot.

Maldonado was convicted at trial of murder because he acted with “depraved indifference” to human life, but the Court of Appeals this month reduced the top charge against him to second degree manslaughter [PDF]. “[W]e conclude that the evidence was legally insufficient to support defendant’s conviction for depraved indifference murder,” wrote Judge Jenny Rivera for the majority, “because the circumstances of this high-speed vehicular police chase do not fit within the narrow category of cases wherein the facts evince a defendant’s utter disregard for human life.”

Whereas Maldonado’s murder conviction carried a sentence of 15 years to life, second degree manslaughter is a class C felony, with sentences ranging from one to 15 years in prison. Maldonado’s re-sentencing date was not yet scheduled at this writing.

“The Court of Appeals’ decision in Maldonado is distressing to anyone who recognizes that a wildly reckless driver, bent on fleeing the police, can be absolutely depraved toward innocent people that are in his way,” said Rice in a written statement. “It’s time for the legislature to address the issue and make it clear that the outrageously dangerous driving represented in Maldonado is not simply reckless, it is depraved. And when someone dies as a result, it should be nothing short of murder.”

Rice and her chief vehicular crimes prosecutor Maureen McCormick have for years warned that poorly-written state statutes are leading to case law that favors killer motorists. But weak laws aren’t the only cause for concern. Though the Maldonado ruling was not unanimous, five of the seven most powerful judges in New York State exhibited a troubling readiness to make excuses for a driver who they acknowledge “did not brake” after slamming a speeding van into an innocent bystander.

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Today’s Headlines

  • WNYC Interviews Parents of Ella Bandes at Intersection Where She Was Killed By Turning Bus Driver
  • Galina Truglio, 63, Killed in Midwood Crosswalk After Two Drivers Collide (WABC, News, News 12)
  • Cuomo Gets WFP Nod; Could Promise to Flip the Senate Torpedo Bills This Session? (NYT, LoHud)
  • Prospect Park Trip Wire Breaks Cyclist’s Bones, and NYPD Refuses to File Criminal Report (Gothamist)
  • DOT Changed Rules in 2008 to Allow Drivers to Park in Some Crosswalks (Urban Residue)
  • MTA IG: Lots of Access-A-Ride Drivers Drive Dangerously, Use Phones Behind the Wheel (Post, WCBS)
  • Ferry Runs Aground on Advocacy Trip (CapNY, 2nd Ave. Sagas); Boosters Undaunted (TL, News 1, 2)
  • NJ Legislators Call Off Press Conference After Failing to Agree With NY on Port Reforms (NYT, News)
  • Off-Duty Cop Faces Charges for Injuring Girlfriend With His Car After Fight (PostNewsNews 12)
  • CB 2 Joins PS 41 Principal and Parents to Ask DOT to Extend West Village Slow Zone (DNA)
  • Advance Calls Out Matteo and Ignizio for Traffic Cam Warning Sign Bills
  • Education Council on Staten Island Wants to Give School Safety Agents Ticket-Writing Powers (DNA)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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For Cooper’s Law to Work, NYPD Must Change Its Approach to Traffic Crashes

For Cooper’s Law to be effective, ticketing reckless drivers will have to become the rule for NYPD, rather than the exception. Graphic by Carly Clark. Citation data via Transportation Alternatives.

One of the most substantive traffic safety bills passed by the City Council Thursday was Intro 171 — “Cooper’s Law” — which allows the Taxi and Limousine Commission to suspend or revoke hack licenses of cab drivers who cause critical injury or death as a result of breaking traffic laws. The effectiveness of the law, however, depends on NYPD, which often does not ticket drivers involved in serious crashes.

The driver who killed Cooper Stock, the law’s namesake, was cited for failure to yield. But the cab drivers who fatally struck Kelly Gordon and Timothy Keith, for example, were reportedly not summonsed for those crashes. Nor was the cabbie who severed the leg of Sian Green. Even with Cooper’s Law in effect, all of those cab drivers would theoretically remain in good standing with the TLC.

It is too early to know whether NYPD is ticketing more drivers who injure and kill since the advent of Vision Zero, but another item on yesterday’s agenda might be instructive. The council passed a resolution asking Albany to elevate violations of the state’s vulnerable user law to misdemeanor status, which would let cops ticket drivers based on probable cause. NYPD has said it can’t cite drivers for mere traffic violations unless an officer personally witnesses the incident.

Hayley and Diego’s Law — also named after children killed by a driver who avoided criminal charges — was meant to give police a middle ground between a traffic violation and a crime. Because the department only issues careless driving citations if the crash is investigated by the Collision Investigation Squad, NYPD has for years failed to enforce the law as intended. As a result, fewer than 1 percent of New York City drivers who injure and kill pedestrians and cyclists are cited for careless driving.

Another potential hindrance is that NYPD investigates a fraction of serious traffic crashes. Though Ray Kelly purportedly retired the “likely to die” rule, only CIS personnel are trained to do more than check off boxes on the state-issued collision report form. In 2011 NYPD investigated just 304 of 3,192 fatal or serious collisions, according to the office of former comptroller John Liu. Even with reported additions to CIS, the unit has nowhere close to the staff it needs to properly investigate all serious crashes.

If NYPD limits enforcement of Cooper’s Law to CIS-investigated collisions, or does not change its approach to traffic crashes in a meaningful way, dangerous cab drivers will remain on the job.

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Today’s Headlines

  • More on City Council Passing Vision Zero Bills (NYT, News, CapNY, Advance, WNYC, NY1, WPIX)
  • Grieving Family of Noshat Nahian Thanks City Council for New Laws (WPIX)
  • Justin Davidson: Traffic Safety Should Not Be Controversial, But We’re a Long Way From Zero (NY Mag)
  • Father of Boy Run Over by Truck in Morningside Park: “Some Things Can Be Prevented” (News)
  • Driver Critically Injures Flatbush Boy, 11 (NY1, News); Post: “He Ran Onto a Busy Street…No Criminality”
  • Because of Albany, Speed Cams Shut Off When Crashes Are at Their Highest (WNYC)
  • Anatomy of a Capital Project Delay: The 7 Train Extension’s Custom Diagonal Elevator (NYT)
  • Tower Proposal Next to Grand Central Includes Turning Vanderbilt Ave. Into Plaza (NYT, WSJ)
  • Next City Went to the Citi Bike Data Hack Night to Learn About Tools and Apps for Bike-Share Users
  • If Cycling Is Such a Menace, Why Do People Walk in NYC’s Bike Lanes? (Bike Snob)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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City Council Passes Several Bills to Reduce Reckless Driving

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and other reps before today's meeting. Photo: ##https://twitter.com/willalatriste/status/472067061028777984##@willalatriste##

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and other reps before today’s meeting. Photo: @willalatriste

The City Council today passed a slate of bills and resolutions aimed at improving street safety.

The 11 bills — outlined in detail here — include Intro 238, which would make it a misdemeanor for a driver to “make contact” with a pedestrian or cyclist who has the right of way, punishable by up to $500 in fines and 30 days in jail; and Intro 171, known as “Cooper’s Law,” which would suspend or revoke TLC licenses of cab drivers who are summonsed or convicted, respectively, of traffic violations stemming from crashes that result in critical injury or death.

Council Member Mark Weprin, of Queens, cast the lone vote against Intro 171. Weprin said the bill comes too close to creating a strict liability standard — which, according to attorney and traffic law expert Steve Vaccaro, is exactly what New York State needs to reduce deaths and injuries. Weprin said he fears the law would punish some unfairly — that a driver’s career shouldn’t end because of one incident, and that a cabbie who rolls through a stop sign and causes a crash should not necessarily be subject to the same penalties as one who crashes while speeding. (The cab driver who killed Cooper Stock failed to yield and had an otherwise clean record.) “This is the livelihood of these drivers,” said Weprin. Council Members Vincent Gentile and Jumaane Williams abstained from voting on the bill.

Other bills would combine points issued by the state DMV and the TLC against hack licenses and set new TLC license suspension and revocation standards; require the TLC to review and report on cab driver crashes and subsequent disciplinary actions; codify the number of Slow Zones DOT implements each year; codify DOT work zone safety standards; require DOT to study the safety of arterial streets, study safety issues pertaining to left turns by motorists, and inspect and/or repair broken traffic signals within 24 hours; and prohibit “stunt behavior” by motorcyclists.

The bill to require the TLC to institute a one-year pilot program for “black box” technology to record and report taxi driver behavior was not on today’s agenda. TLC Commissioner Meera Joshi told the transportation committee in April that the agency has issued RFIs for the program, but she made no mention of the pilot in budget testimony before the council earlier this month.

One bill in the transportation committee hopper not taken up today would mandate side guards for trucks to help prevent people from being swept beneath them. DOT asked that the council hold off on legislating truck guards in lieu of a pending study already underway within the department.

The council approved resolutions asking Albany to grant the city control over speed and red light cameras, increase the penalty for driving on a sidewalk to $250 and three license points, make it a misdemeanor to violate the state’s vulnerable user law, increase the penalty for reckless driving that results in death or serious injury, and pass extant bills to increase penalties for leaving the scene of a crash.

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All Eyes on Senate as Families for Safe Streets Push for Lower Speed Limit

From left, Greg Thompson, Joy Clarke, DOT's Juan Martinez, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, Aaron Charlop-Powers, Mary Beth Kelly, and Ellen Foote in Albany yesterday on a Families for Safe Streets visit to legislators. Photo: Families for Safe Streets/Twitter

From left, Greg Thompson, Joy Clarke, DOT’s Juan Martinez, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, Aaron Charlop-Powers, Mary Beth Kelly, and Ellen Foote in Albany yesterday on a Families for Safe Streets visit to legislators. Photo: Families for Safe Streets/Twitter

Yesterday, five members of Families for Safe Streets were joined by Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg in Albany to build support for a bill to lower the city’s default speed limit to 25 mph. Advocates say Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is set to sign on as a sponsor, while City Hall and advocates continue to aim for support in the State Senate, potentially from Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein.

A source tells Streetsblog that Trottenberg met with Klein this morning, asking him to add his name to the legislation. As leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, which shares power with Senate Republicans, Klein could put the bill over the top in the chamber. DOT and Klein’s office have not responded to questions about the meeting.

klein

The fate of legislation to reduce the default speed limit in NYC to 25 mph and make it easier to designate 20 mph streets may rest with State Senator Jeff Klein.

“I think he’s receptive to the change. He was a big, big supporter of speed cameras,” said Aaron Charlop-Powers, whose mother was was killed while riding her bike to work in the Bronx in 2010. “I’m hopeful that he’ll also emerge as a sponsor in this session.”

The bill seems to have a clear path to passage in the Assembly. Caroline Samponaro of Transportation Alternatives said Silver supports the 25 mph bill“We really heard there was commitment from him to move the bill forward with the speaker as the lead co-sponsor,” she said.

While Silver’s office has yet to return a request for comment, other members of the Assembly leadership are on the record signaling they will support the 25 mph bill. Ways and Means Committee Chair Herman ”Denny” Farrell told Streetsblog yesterday that while he needed more information and assurances that it would not lead to unfair speed traps on major streets, he’s receptive to the bill. “That one I’ve got to hear more about,” he said. ”I will probably vote for the 25 mph [bill].”

The bill already has the support of 38 Assembly members, including Codes Committee Chair Joe Lentol, Bronx Democratic Party leader Carl Heastie, and Harlem representative Keith Wright, who until recently was chair of the state Democratic Party.

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Today’s Headlines

  • City Council to Vote on Slate of Traffic Safety Bills Today (Post, WNYC)
  • Espaillat and Levine Call for Extending 125th Street Select Bus Service to West Harlem (News)
  • Make Queens Safer Says NYPD’s Geocoded Crash Data Undercounts Injuries and Fatalities
  • Ben Kallos Bill Would Require NYPD to Map Traffic Summonses (AMNY)
  • No Charges for Parks Department Driver Who Ran Over Child, and No Explanation for Crash (DNA)
  • Teen Who Killed Ariel Russo Bragged About Speeding, Manhattan Prosecutors Tell Judge (NYT, News)
  • Brooklyn CB 15 Rejects Half-Baked NYS DOT Ocean Parkway Safety Proposal (Sheepshead Bites)
  • Con Ed and Parks Department Duck Responsibility for Incomplete East River Esplanade Work (DNA)
  • Brooklyn Homicide Detective Arrested for Driving Drunk (News)
  • City Has Allowed Trucking Company to Operate on College Point Residential Block for 24 Years (TL)
  • Sam Schwartz Pitches Toll Reform to Downtown Express Readers

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Today’s Headlines

  • 125th St SBS Supporter Adriano Espaillat Takes Charlie Rangel to Task on Transportation (Capital)
  • De Blasio Decides Against a 2024 Olympics Bid (WSJ)
  • More Coverage of the SBS Debut on 125th From WNYC, DNA, and Gothamist
  • Happy Birthday, Citi Bike, and Get Well Soon (WNYC, News)
  • Felix Salmon: The Problem With the Citi Bike Contract Is That It’s Unenforceable
  • Columbia Planners Call for Walkable Development and Road Pricing to Make TZB Transit Work (Lohud)
  • DOT to Consider Warning Signs at Speed Cam Locations… and Other Locations (WSJ)
  • NYPD’s UWS Bike Ticket Blitz “a Misguided Use of Limited Resources” (News)
  • Parks Dept Van Driver Runs Over Boy’s Leg in Morningside Park (Post, NY1)
  • Manhattan Judge Creates Tiny New Disincentive to Double-Park (NYT)
  • Massimo Vignelli, Designer of Streamlined Subway Map, Is Dead (NYTWNYC, News, 2nd Ave Sagas)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Today’s Headlines

  • Citi Bike at One Year: Bike Snob (NYT) and Unionizing Workers (AMNY, News) Offer Their Takes
  • “Highly Unusual” Unpaid Parking Revenue Provision Subject of Citi Bike Contract Negotiations (WSJ)
  • Gelinas (City Journal) and Katz (News) Look at What It Will Take for Vision Zero to Succeed
  • Attitudes Like This From Men Behind an NYPD Badge Won’t Get Us to Vision Zero (IVM)
  • When You Rely on a Bike to Get Around NYC, Your Rent Can Be More Affordable (NYT)
  • NYPD Launches Crackdown on Wide Range of Violations in 21 of 76 Precincts (Advance, News)
  • Yet Tickets to Cyclists Are Up 123% Over Last Year in Upper West Side’s 24th Precinct (News)
  • Driver Injures Ped on Atlantic Avenue; Charged With DWI, Vehicular Assault (News 12, NY1, AMNY)
  • William Faison, 53, Killed by Unlicensed Driver While Biking in Cambria Heights (TL, Post)
  • Morris Heights Driver Charged With Murder After Running Down Rival Gunman (News 12, NY1, News)
  • MIT Team Uses City’s Crash Data to Map Where the Most Bike Collisions Occur (CityLab)
  • Rockaway Merchants Afraid That Opening Street to More Foot Traffic Will Hurt Businesses (News)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

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Today’s Headlines

  • Census: NYC Gained 61,440 Residents Last Year, Up 230,000 Since 2010 (AMNYObserver)
  • Cooper Stock’s Killer Will Not Be Prosecuted, But He Will Lose His Hack License (CapNY)
  • 2-Day NYPD Speeding Ticket Blitz Nets 4,800 Summonses; There Were 8,400 All Last Month (WCBS)
  • Police Issuing More Dangerous Driving Tickets Compared to Last Year, But Not Everywhere (WNYC)
  • Precincts Covering Forest Hills, Rego Park, Flushing, Astoria to Launch Vision Zero Crackdown (DNA)
  • Police Identify Suspect In Gowanus Hit-and-Run Death, Seek Help Finding Him (News 12, WPIX)
  • Weisbrod Says Neighborhood Rezonings Will Accommodate Affordable Housing (CapNY)
  • Happy Memorial Day Weekend: Governor’s Island Ferry Now Costs $2 (Downtown Express)
  • Brooklyn Spoke Writes Epic Post Explaining the Relationship Between Cyclists and Red Lights
  • Trying to Get Out of a Traffic Ticket? Advance Features Advice From Readers — Including Some LOLs
  • Curbed Looks at Subway Lines That Could Have Been

More headlines at Streetsblog USA