MAP: Only 15 Percent of Drivers Who Kill People Face Vision Zero Charges

By  Aidan Gardiner and Nigel Chiwaya | January 4, 2016 7:26am 

NEW YORK CITY — Only 15 percent of drivers who killed pedestrians or cyclists have been charged under a law designed to increase penalties against drivers in the nearly two years since it took effect, a DNAinfo New York investigation has found.

And only 10 drivers among those who struck and injured 20,082 pedestrians and cyclists were charged under the new legislation — which was supposed "to give some teeth" to a bundle of laws that are part of Mayor Bill de Blasio's "Vision Zero" plan to eliminate traffic fatalities.

“This bill was the most dramatic of all of them in the way it was going to change the way people live their lives," said a City Council source who was involved in crafting the law, but who asked for anonymity because the person is not authorized to speak to the press.

Some of those who drafted the law were "a little nervous that it’d go too far because it was creating a crime," the source said of the charge, which is designed to apply to pedestrian crashes that aren't linked to other more serious criminal charges, such as drunken driving. The misdemeanor charge carries a penalty of up to 30 days behind bars and a $250 fine.

Even so, some say the law fell short.

"People are being killed on a regular basis by cars and there’s no consequence," said Dana Lerner, whose son, Cooper Stock, was fatally hit by a taxi driver two years ago, before the law was enacted.

"If there’s no consequences, there’s no reason to follow laws," she added. "That’s exactly the problem."

Since August 2014, when Vision Zero's misdemeanor charge — "failure to exercise 'due care'" as laid out in Administrative Code Section 19-190 — took effect, DNAinfo's two-month investigation found:

► 205 pedestrians and bicyclists have been killed by drivers across the city, as of Dec. 14, 2015.

► 31 drivers involved in fatal crashes have faced the Vision Zero misdemeanor charge during that same time — 10 each in Brooklyn and Queens, nine in Manhattan and two in The Bronx.

► Not a single driver has been charged with the misdemeanor in Staten Island, where seven pedestrians and cyclists were killed in crashes.

► 14 drivers arrested only got tickets, while others had their charges dismissed.

► In at least two cases, city bus drivers arrested under the law haven't been arraigned — one of them, more than a year after killing a man.

DNAinfo mapped out all of the sites of fatal crashes across the city since the Vision Zero charge was enacted, to identify where that charge was being used, and to show details of each crash and accompanying court documents.

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Advocacy group Transportation Alternatives — whose leaders say they provided the majority of recommendations that de Blasio included in Vision Zero — said the low level of prosecution in fatal crashes is an outrage.

"For those victims to get zero justice is completely unacceptable," said the group's president, Paul Steely White.

Transportation Alternatives released a scathing report in November excoriating the city's District Attorneys' offices, which they accused of "routinely dodging their responsibility to seek justice for traffic victims, which leaves thousands without a day in court and allows dangerous driving to continue unabated."

In addition, none of the city's prosecutors turned over data to them on how many drivers had been charged with killing pedestrians under Vision Zero, leading the advocates to conclude the DAs aren't tracking the cases at all, they said.

Officials from the Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Bronx District Attorneys' offices told DNAinfo they are working with the Mayor's Office, NYPD, MTA and Department of Health to address fatal crashes.

Prosecutors told DNAinfo they used the charge against 56 drivers — 24 times in Brooklyn, 18 times in Queens, 13 times in Manhattan and three times in The Bronx.

But they only provided names for 48 of those charged. NYPD officials gave DNAinfo the names of 35 people they'd arrested and charged. The names provided by both police and prosecutors often didn't match.

Prosecutors said their hands are often tied because police sometimes arrest people for failure to exercise due care where it's not appropriate.

"Not every 19-190 arrest is legally 19-190," a Manhattan DA spokesman said.

In addition, prosecutors said as awful as crashes can be, the actions of the drivers are not always illegal.

"No matter how tragic the incident and no matter how much sympathy we have for victims and families we cannot base a prosecution on those feelings," Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.

Officials from the Staten Island District Attorney's office called Transportation Alternatives' report "seriously flawed," but declined to say what they are doing to use Vision Zero charges against reckless drivers.

The majority of enforcement seems to have come in the form of tickets, rather than arrests.

Since 2013, more than 196,784 people were ticketed for speeding and 58,675 were ticketed for failure to yield, according to the Mayor’s Office.

Meanwhile, pedestrian and bike deaths continue.

Charles Kinyeti was walking down a Flatbush sidewalk Nov. 9 when Paul Omoregie’s SUV hurtled over the curb and killed him, police said. Omoregie was arrested for driving without a license and released without bail four days later, court records show.

He was not charged under the Vision Zero law.

One month later, Victoria Nicodemus was walking down a Fort Greene sidewalk with her boyfriend when Marlon Sewell drove up onto the curb and fatally struck her, police said. Sewell was arrested at the scene for driving with a suspended license and released without bail the next day, records show.

He was not charged under Vision Zero.

“It’s a little disconcerting,” said Nicodemus’ brother, Hank Miller.

Police said they’re still investigating both cases.

Miller hopes some justice might yet come.

“I’m really pushing them to not leave any stone uncovered with this investigation,” Miller said. “Anything that can up the charges and the severity of any sentence.”

With reporting by Rachelle Blidner, Janon Fisher, Ben Fractenberg, Ethan Harfenist, Anthony Izaguirre, Alexandra Leon, Kyle Ligman, Anton K. Nilsson, Rebecca Ngu and Eddie Small.