PARK SLOPE — The mother of 12-year-old Sammy Cohen Eckstein says she's grateful the DMV has suspended the license of the driver that killed her son, and she hopes the move sends a message to others to drive more carefully.
Administrative Law Judge Marc Berger yanked driver Luis K. Quizhpi-Tacuri's license for 180 days because he failed to use due care, passed another car unsafely and was driving with an invalid license at the time of the Oct. 8, 2013 crash, Gothamist first reported.
"We are grateful that the DMV is finally holding reckless drivers accountable," Sammy's mother Amy Cohen told DNAinfo New York.
"More than 23,000 people have been injured in New York City traffic so far this year, and we've lost more than 100 lives. By suspending his license, the DMV recognized that Sammy was not killed in an 'accident.' His death could have been prevented had the driver exercised more care."
A police report indicated that Sammy was hit after he fell as he chased a soccer ball and that he was in the intersection against the light, according to the ruling.
Quizhpi-Tacuri admitted at the hearing that he saw the boy's soccer ball roll into the street near Prospect Park West and Third Street, and saw the car in the lane next to his screech to a halt.
Instead of slowing down or stopping, Quizhpi-Tacuri, who was late to an appointment delivering building materials, passed the other car on the right and struck Cohen Eckstein, according to Berger's ruling.
“The sight of the ball rolling into the street in a residential area adjacent to a park in the afternoon should have warned the respondent of the likely presence of children — to carefully observe his surroundings and make appropriate adjustments, including slowing down or stopping if necessary," Berger wrote.
Quizhpi-Tacuri testified that he was driving at about 25 mph at the time, but "could not say how he knew this," according to the ruling. Quizhpi-Tacuri wasn't issued a summons or criminal penalty in connection with the crash. His attorney did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
The ruling took more than 18 months because of a backlog of cases at the DMV, but the wait used to be longer, said Steve Vaccaro, the attorney representing Sammy Cohen Eckstein's family. Lobbying by pedestrian safety advocates has pushed DMV to move faster on such cases, Vaccaro said.
He lauded Berger for making a "nuanced analysis" of Sammy's case.
“This is an example of what we’d like to see from the DMV, not just in fatality cases but in all cases with injuries,” Vaccaro said.
"DMV takes every case involving fatalities extremely seriously, as this decision clearly shows," DMV spokesman Joe Morrissey said. "Often, the facts are not clear after a review of only a crash report filed by the police contemporaneous with the crash, and a more detailed look may provide other information that suggests that a hearing is appropriate."
If Quizhpi-Tacur drives while his license is suspended, he could be charged with aggravated unlicensed operation, a misdemeanor that’s punishable by a fine of up to $500 or up to 30 days in jail, Morrissey said.
Vaccaro also noted that the judge allowed Cohen to read a statement at the hearing, something that wasn't allowed during the DMV hearing on the death of cyclist Mathieu Lefevre.
“That doesn’t affect the outcome of the hearing, but it's very meaningful to the families and it’s an encouraging sign that the DMV is acknowledging the victims’ loss," Vaccaro said.
Since Sammy's death, his family has banded together with others who have lost loved ones in pedestrian crashes to form Families for Safe Streets. Students at Sammy's school, where two other students were killed in crosswalks, started the Vision Zero Youth Council.
Families For Safe Streets will hold a rally July 14 in Union Square where they'll ask the public to stop using the word "accident" when describing crashes like the one that killed Sammy.
"It is the first critical step in saving lives — acknowledging that deaths like Sammy's could have been prevented," Cohen said.