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Driver Who Killed UWS Mother Struck 3 Others in Months Before Crash: DA

By Emily Frost | November 19, 2015 11:30am
 The driver who hit and killed Jean Chambers had hit and injured three other pedestrians within the previous six months.
The driver who hit and killed Jean Chambers had hit and injured three other pedestrians within the previous six months.
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DNAinfo; John Chambers

UPPER WEST SIDE — The driver who fatally struck a local mother last year on West End Avenue had hit and injured three other pedestrians earlier in the year in separate incidents — including a hit-and-run involving a 13-year-old boy in Queens, authorities said.

Roberto Mercado, 55, of Ozone Park, was found guilty last week of criminally negligent homicide in the death of Jean Chambers, 61, who he struck and killed at the intersection of West 95th Street in July 2014, dragging her body 85 feet before someone stopped him.

Only two months earlier, Mercado fled the scene after striking a 13-year-old boy who was crossing the street on the Ozone Park-Woodhaven border, Manhattan prosecutors said.

And just months before that, he plowed into two other pedestrians crossing the street in Ozone Park, leaving one requiring stitches, according to the DA. 

Those crashes "prove that he knows (or should know) that he is a bad driver," according to a trial motion submitted by Assistant Manhattan District Attorney Michael Pasinkoff, who prosecuted Mercado.

The crash was not "simply an accident," but an act of criminal negligence, Pasinkoff argued. 

On July 10, 2014, Mercado made an improper left turn from West 95th Street onto West End Avenue, veering into the southbound lane where Chambers had just stepped off the sidewalk, rather than making a proper turn into the northbound lane, according to police. 

He dragged Chambers' body for 85 feet along the avenue before a person knocked on his window and alerted him that there was a woman under his car, Pasinkoff explained.

"I killed her. I killed her. I was going eastbound and made a left. I thought I had a flat, people were yelling and pointing. I stopped," Mercado told police officers shortly after the crash, around 11:05 a.m., according to court documents. 

When an officer asked him, "Why are you in the southbound lane?" Mercado told the officer, "I thought I was in the right lane."

Mercado claimed he was looking at his GPS when he hit Chambers, but data from the device showed he had been in the vicinity of West End Avenue and West 95th Street at least five times previously. The GPS also showed that he had been driving southbound on West End Avenue past West 95th Street just 15 minutes before he hit Chambers, according to prosecutors.

Initially, Mercado was not charged with any criminality and stayed at the scene of the crash. He was arrested more than five months later, on Dec. 29, 2014.

"I think the elements of the case clearly warranted a guilty verdict," said Jean's husband, John Chambers.

Prosecutors were further motivated to prosecute the reckless driver by his recent history of reckless driving.

On May 6, 2014, Mercado tried to beat a red light at the intersection of 84th Street and Atlantic Avenue when he struck a 13-year-old boy crossing 84th Street, knocking him to the ground, prosecutors said.

He asked if the boy was OK before speeding away, but the teen snapped a photo of his license plate that police used to track Mercado down later that night. He told the officer who found him that he left the scene because he was nervous, authorities said.

He eventually pleaded guilty to endangering the welfare of a child and leaving the scene of an accident with personal injury, and received a traffic infraction.

On Jan. 26, 2014, Mercado was driving along 101st Avenue in Ozone Park when he knocked two pedestrians who were slowly crossing the street to the ground as he made a left turn onto West 94th Street, court documents show. 

He stayed on the scene in that incident, claiming the sun prevented him from seeing the victims, authorities said. 

One of the victims suffered a cut to the leg that required stitches, while the other victim suffered abrasions to his leg and abdomen, according to court documents. It was not clear whether he faced any punishment for that incident.

The January crash closely resembled the crash that killed Chambers, and both of the previous incidents combined showed that Mercado knew he had trouble seeing pedestrians and that his poor driving had consequences, Pasinkoff argued. 

Mercado faces faces a maximum sentence of four years in prison at his sentencing on Jan. 12, according to the DA's Office. His license has not been reinstated since he was arrested in late 2014. 

His lawyer did not return a request for comment. 

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