Four-Year-Old Killed by Hummer Shouldn’t Have Died in Vain

2007_02_hummerhit.jpgThe death of four-year-old James Jacaricce Rice at the intersection of Third Avenue and Baltic Street in Brooklyn yesterday didn’t make a huge splash in the news. But it should have.

What were James and his 18-year-old aunt, Ta-Nayin St. John, doing when they were mowed down by a three-ton yellow Hummer making a turn? They were just trying to cross the street. In the crosswalk. With the light.

According to the Daily News, the driver, Ken Williams, said that the height of his vehicle prevented him from seeing the two walking in front of him. Because he stopped at the scene, and because he hadn’t been drinking, it seems his only penalty will be a ticket for failure to yield. That, and having to live with the consequences of his actions.

Of course, the driver who hit and killed three-year-old Eddy Heredia last week on Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn wasn’t charged with any crime either, even though he did leave the scene. He told the cops he hadn’t seen the boy, and they believed him. Newsday’s account of a witness who said the driver had stopped after he hit the boy, gotten out of the truck and then gotten back in to drive off apparently was not followed up.

Pedestrian fatalities needn’t go unmarked. Last year in Chicago, after a little girl named Maya Hirsch was struck by a car running a stop sign, the result was an immediate crackdown on reckless motorists, fully backed by the city’s mayor and police department. Maya’s death also prompted proposed legislation that calls for stiffer penalties for drivers who ignore stop signs. It’s called Maya’s Law, and it’s just moved out of committee. Chicago lawmakers are also talking about using an increase in parking meter fees to fund crosswalk-safety improvement, transit station upgrades and local shuttle bus service. All of this is causing a lively discussion among Chicago motorists and pedestrians.

But here in New York, we’re instead talking on and on about Sen. Carl Kruger’s proposal to ban wearing iPods when crossing the street (in fact, some news outlets seemed eager to make the iPod connection in yesterday’s fatality, although there is no proof as to whether St. John was wearing hers when she and her nephew were hit). As if pedestrians bear the full responsibility for anything that happens when they let down their guard for even a moment. As if, unless they scurry across the street like hunted animals, they are somehow at fault when they are struck by cars.

Why doesn’t some forward-thinking New York legislator take the horrible occasion of James’s death and propose some solutions? Like stiffer penalties for drivers who hit pedestrians when failing to yield? Like traffic-calming infrastructure?

If none does, maybe New York pedestrians should consider borrowing tactics from their Seattle counterparts, who recently staged a demonstration trying to bring attention to the issue of reckless drivers.

Although you have to wonder, if a child getting crushed to death by a Hummer doesn’t get people’s attention, what will?

Photo via Gothamist

  • alex

    This is ridiculous. Just in the past couple of weeks, an elderly woman and two children have been murdered in cross-walks while they had the right of way.
    I am curious; if a cyclist mows down a young child in a cross-walk, would the cyclist recieve a “failure to yield” summons?
    I have already voiced my outrage to my city council member about the lack of consequences for drivers who murder pedestrians/cyclists. Of course, Gale Brewer is my councilperson so this is like preaching to the choir.

  • alex

    I just saw this press release from today by TA, which is relevant to my previous comment.

  • brent

    I am reaching a breaking point here. Public officials, the people charged with enforcement, the media, and reckless assholes in general do not deserve ONE MORE MOMENT of our patience. I will write the usual string of letters (if a response is received it is usually an excuse why nothing can be done), I will send my $40 to TA, but this is obviously not enough. People are dying and no one is paying any attention. I was amazed this morning in the ice storm to watch motorists in their 70.5 degree cars blocking intersections and generally intimidating all other street users because they think it’s a birthright. This is what our society holds more sacred than the safety of children and the elderly? Someone help- we desperately need a real leader and we need action, now.

  • This one really hits home. I happened to come upon the aftermath of this ped fatality yesterday afternoon on my way to pick up my son from daycare in Boerum Hill. I ride him on my bike across this part of 3rd Avenue all the time.

    It is mind-boggling to me that the cops and all of these news reports are focused on whether the deceased 4-year-old’s family member was listening to an iPod.

    If the cops are investigating that, then I hope they are also asking what was the driver of the Hummer listening to on his vehicle sound system or talking about on his phone or stuffing in his face as he ran the kid over? And why does he need to drive a Hummer? What practical purpose does that vehicle serve for him?

    How does a 4-yo get killed in the crosswalk with the right-of-way and it all just gets written off as an “accident” because, you know, Hummers ride “kind of high” and it’s hard for the driver to see.

    What kind of city allows this to happen without comment?

  • Seriously! If these trucks ride too high to see small pedestrians, they should be illegal! I can’t believe they aren’t already. If someone wants to make it a punishable offense to walk around unable to hear cars coming, how can it be ok for a driver to not even see human beings who are less than 5 feet tall?

    Nevermind the fact that Hummer drivers are mercilessly mocked and looked down upon by regular New Yorkers.

  • brent

    You know, I think we are on to something here. Our politicians and media seem to have developed an interest in making the city safer for pedestrians through ticketing i-pod users and bicyclists. The recent spate of deaths and accidents have shown very clearly that that is not the root of the problem. The common factor in these deaths is not electronic devices the size of a cigarette pack. On the contrary, it’s vehicles which are excessively scaled for out dense environment. Let us propose legislation to get these behemoths off the streets. How do we make this happen?

  • Send the TA press release around to your local elected officials, the borough president’s office and your local community boards. These are really easy, low-cost but high impact ideas for reducing pedestrian deaths.

  • Steve

    Just to round out the picture, the fact that the driver got a ticket for failure to yield is very significant in the event the victims/survivors pursue a civil lawsuit against him. Given the circumstances of the accident and the damage done, it increases the likelihood of a huge award against the driver. But such awards are intended only to compensate the victim, not to punish the wrongdoer. For that reason, there should also be criminal liability in cases where negligence results in serious injury or death. And most importantly, there should be regulation of vehicles such as this one, the owners of which themselves claim (after the accident, of course) cannot be driven safely.

  • Sage

    I don’t get how SUV drivers get away with the “I didn’t see them” defense based on the idea that they are higher above the road. Isn’t the “command position” of these luxury SUVs generally used as a selling point for those vehicles because it supposedly gives them an IMPROVED view of the road around them?

  • rachael

    I’ve never really understood why these drivers are never charged with anything. What about vehicular manslaughter? Or negligence? What conditions need to exist in order to bring those charges? Is is a problem with legislation or investigation?

  • I think its a problem of lawmakers and law enforcement personally identifying with the plight of the motorist. They see themselves in the same situation and wouldn’t want to be taken to jail – which is exactly where you belong if you kill a pedestrian with a car.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    I’m outraged by this, because my son just turned four, and we’re regularly buzzed by drivers in crosswalks. The idea that one of them could kill him and put me in the hospital, and drive away with a $75 ticket, galls me. My impulse is to find those cops, grab them by the shoulders and scream, “A child is dead! Someone broke the law! Enforce it!” Of course, I know how effective that would be.

    We’ve had some suggestions of various actions we can take. Writing to Councilmember Brewer is preaching to the choir (although I’m sure she finds such letters useful when motorists attack any pro-pedestrian actions she might take). Senator Kruger would probably blame the victim.

    Yes, traffic calming is a good long-term solution, but what about justice? Most of us obviously reject the police argument that it was simply a tragic “accident.” Do we agree with the law that the driver is at fault? Or is it the fault of the engineers who designed the intersection, the DOT bureaucrats who keep it that way, the politicians and reporters who fail to demand change, and the public that continues to allow this? Should traffic engineers be liable for any fatalities above a certain level? Whose doorstep should we lay this at?

    The bottom line is, who’s the best person for someone not in the district to contact, right now? Commissioner Kelly? D.A. Hynes? The mayor? The interim DOT commissioner? Councilmember Liu? My local officials – Council, Assembly, Senate? The Daily News? The Automobile Club of New York? General Motors? I don’t have that much time to spend on letter-writing (especially after that big translation last night), so I want to make my time count.

  • This is unbelievable. A guy is excused from killing someone IN A CROSSWALK! because his dangerously designed SUV, which he is driving in a completely unreasonable place for it, is legal?

    He is responsible. He was driving. He purchased the thing. He killed another human being with it.

  • brent

    Angus- You demonstrate another sore point for this whole mess. Why is the confusing system of checks and balances designed so that if change is needed, every entity cancels out the other and all we get is the promise of a future study (after initial studies show that there is sufficient data to collect). The purpose of government is to make and enforce policies and the purpose of the media is to debate those policies. Neither is functioning- right now the purpose of both is to enable the motoring lifestyle. This means they are useless to anyone who wants other choices.

  • As far as I’m concerned, the fact that the driver said that his vehicle was too high for him to see pedestrians means that Hummers should be banned immediately. How could the city possibly do otherwise?

    Sage makes a good point: if the driver is telling the truth, then car companies are lying, and everyone involved in making and owning a Hummer should be punished by banning them for being roving death machines.

  • There should be a lawsuit against GM for designing an unsafe product.

    If the driver really could not see, as claimed, then GM was negligent in designing the Hummer, and the victims should be able to recover damages from GM.

    If the driver really could see, then he was negligent and should be charged with manslaughter.

  • I’m going to mangle some of the legal finery, you have to prove malicious intent for vehicular manslaughter. DUIs fall under depraved indifference, the logic being that a rational human being knows drinking impairs ability, and getting in a car drunk is indifferences to this. That, and laws have been created specifically because it’s hard to lobby for drunk driving (finally).

    Intent, even in the form of “I was just trying to beat the light” might be adequate, but the problem there is proving it is very hard (absent video or multiple witnesses, and then you get some defense atty arguing that the average pedestrian can’t gauge if a car is accelerating at a ‘dangerous rate’.

    Hitting a pedestrian in a crosswalk is easy to cite, since the evidence, very bluntly, is right there. Since you can’t legally turn right on red in NY, any time a pedestrian is hit in a crosswalk, failure to yield should be a certain citation.

    Should there be a mechanism for manslaughter for failure to yield? Rationally, yes. But I don’t know if this creates inconsistencies with other situations where your property can present danger (pools without fences, for instance), and if that is part of the problem, or simply ingrained preferential treatment for cars over people.

  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    Sure the manufacturer has some level of responsibility. But if the driver can’t see where he is going how is he off the hook? What kind of excuse it that?

  • Eric

    To try to get guns off the street, Bloomberg sued the gun companies. To get Hummers off the street, we need to sue GM. Maybe a class-action among the families of such victims would get the ball rolling.

  • Clarence

    I have been pondering this sad news all day as I vacation out here in San Francisco. The thoughts I wanted to write were almost verbatim those listed by Aaron (#4) above. So I will post an observation:

    While I walked around in a near-gridlocked rush hour on Market Street in downtown SF – I had to cross the street several times. There were cars all over, but most went out of their way to not invade the crosswalk. One driver did but I saw him apologize to pedestrians and he seemed very genuine about it. There was no honking, there was very little intimidation – even with all the cars around, some cars moved maybe feet per minute and still just waited it out.

    I wondered: if the driver of the Hummer had the same temprament as most of the drivers I saw today and maybe cherished human life a little more, maybe, just maybe he would be looking, expecting, waiting for a 4 year old in a crosswalk.

    This city has got to change. Numbers of fatalities may be lower than they were 10 years ago, but I have lived here for over 15 and the streets couldn’t be meaner or more unfriendly to peds and cyclists.

  • I too have been strongly affected by this and the related recent deaths on 3rd Ave. At the request of several parent leaders in the area, I’ve met w/ the principal of the school in Sunset Heights and am advising them about a course of action to help all the schools along 3rd and 4th in Brooklyn to become safer. The current basket of improvements DOT is willing to recommend in it’s “Safe Routes” program is very limited. We need to go much further.

    But while infrastructure and design changes are necessary, we need more than that. To acheive what Clarence is seeing in SF, we need a culture change. Peds, bicyclists and motorists need to expect and respect each other. Right now, it’s everyone for themselves, and that is not working for us.

    David Engwicht calls it an “outbreak of civility” which is what it sounds like San Francisco is having. Of course, with that comes responsibility for all modes to behave — we all cheat the system, by swerving between cars on our bikes, crossing recklessly as peds, etc. Of course, the stakes are so much higher w/ cars that they should be held to a higher standard–as the posts above insist correclty.

    It doesn’t seem right now as if motorists are even considering the risks of driving recklessly, beyond getting a ticket or a fender bender. A major campaign is needed to instill some civility and sanity into this dynamic.

  • Just wondering

    Has a neckdown been installed at the corner of 3rd Avenue and 9th Street where the little boys were killed three years ago?

  • DOT put in a Leading Pedestrian Interval at 3rd and 9th after the deaths of the two boys.

  • Clarence

    And re-stripped the crosswalks…

    And to add the LPI at 3rd/9th: although there is much better obiedence by drivers than when it first went in, it still is jumped constantly by cars who only look for the ped signal to turn and just go right thru the red.

    That’s why we need real traffic calming.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Clarence and Andy, you make good points. I agree that civility is generally helpful. But this is New York, and much as I love this city and my neighbors, it’d take a lot to bring that level of civility to Third Avenue in Boerum Hill.

    I don’t think that incivility should be fatal, just like I don’t think that a large proportion of the population should be spending three hours a day or more performing an activity where inattention (or temporary blindness, or unconsciousness) can be fatal.

    I think the cost of a civility campaign is too great, and the likelihood of failure too high. Compared with that, traffic calming or enforcing laws against failure to yield is a better strategy.

  • Clarence

    Angus,

    I actually don’t know what I would think of an expensive civility campaign. Facing a choice, I too would much rather have traffic calming because it works better and is a sure bet.

    But I also think that a civility campaign doesn’t have to cost money. It could be the mayor and NYPD brass coming out and speaking publicly, telling folks if they come to our city and continue to disrespect its citizens then there will be police stings, expensive ones, tickets for failure to yield, blocking crosswalks, running red lights, and that those tickets will keep getting written until people start behaving.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    That’s a New York-style civility campaign! “Listen up, tough guy! Take it easy on the peds, and don’t make me come over there and kick your ass!”

  • The current blame the victim campaigns have been very experience:

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/safety/safetips.html

    And any efforts to raise driver awareness of pedestrians has been entirely negligent.

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2006/08/30/signs-of-crooked-pedestrian-priorities/

    The iPod issue is just a further admission of a lack of understanding of the problem and of the potential solutions.

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2007/02/12/crack-down-on-trucks-not-ipods/

  • David

    One of my students was killed while crossing the street on January 10:

    http://www.nydailynews.com/news/local/story/487786p-410737c.html

    Note that “The driver of the Saturn that hit Weber was not charged.”

    This is the corner of E. 71st and Veretans:

    http://www.subchat.com/otchat/read.asp?Id=185219

    Note the stop signs.

    Obviously, it was the iPod’s fault.

    Comments?

  • P

    I’m sorry to hear that, David.

    What appalling news coverage- the man was thrown 100 feet and they blame his iPod?!?

    How can the driver avoid a ticket after running a stop sign? I don’t think the public is as supportive of this as the people posting here believe. I think a campaign could change things- I’m sorry for the first people to be made an example of but it has to happen before people change their behavior.

  • ABG

    East 71st and Veterans is right in the middle of Carl Kruger’s district. It’s pretty clear that your student is one of the ones he’s blaming. Maybe the driver is a powerful constituent of his?

    In any case, what a jerk of Senator Kruger. You must feel awful, David.

  • right on clarence. i agree. i always say this and i’ll say it again, we live in a city with 8 million people and every one of them has to be first. this attitude is what makes things like this happen frequently.

    truth is, there is a breakdown on so many levels it’s ridiculous. gm for designing these things. the city for not making them illegal. the fact that there is no law against killing pedestrians while at fault. this is just the beginning.

    where do we start?

    we are all pedestrains – cops, firefighters, bicyclists, even the asshole who killed this kid. 100% of the people that live in this city and every city in this country and elsewhere use their legs, wheelchairs, etc. to move their bodies from one place to another, but we are not all drivers. at some point drivers have to get their fat asses out of their cars and walk somewhere.

  • I hate killers

    you know whats really stupid? the a******s don’t even punish b*****s.

  • TGOTBUMP

    Don’t blame the Hummer! Just like any motor vehicle, the driver needs to be alert at all times! The driver of the Hummer says he couldn’t see because of how high the Hummer was? How far away was the pedestrian from the front of the Hummer before the driver decided to look? The pedestrian didn’t jump right out, the driver of the Hummer had plenty of time to see if he was paying attention! I watched a Saturn do the exact same thing in an intersection making a right hand turn. A pedestrian was crossing in the cross walk and the driver was too busy watching for an opening in traffic and when the driver gassed it, the pedestrian was right in line with the Saturn! 

  • Anonymous

    Has anyone checked the driver’s cell phone records to see if he was distracted?

  • A finance site- http://foximinki.com

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