Another story today highlights the woeful inadequacy of our justice system to deter traffic violence and hold reckless drivers accountable for the loss of life they cause. The Daily News reports that Alexander Aponte, who struck and killed nine-year-old Ibrihim Ahmed while driving a huge campaign bus for a Queens City Council candidate, will get away with a misdemeanor charge of driving with a suspended license. Not murder, not criminally negligent homicide, not vehicular manslaughter, not even reckless driving.
In light of the fact that driving with a suspended license carries only a perfunctory fine and seldom results in any jail time, Transportation Alternatives is calling for stiffer penalties to keep dangerous drivers off the streets, including a top-to-bottom overhaul of section 511 in the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law.
A look at section 511-a reveals that there may be some small measure of legal recourse against the Council candidate, Michael Ricatto, whose campaign hired Aponte. It says, in effect, that if you allow someone with a suspended license to drive your vehicle — such as a massive campaign bus — and you should have known better, you can be held accountable. However, the meager consequences — a maximum $500 fine and 15 days in jail for a first-time offense — are further proof of the need for stronger penalties.
Note that drivers with suspended licenses must surrender the physical license to a court or to the DMV [PDF, page 3]. Did Ricatto’s campaign even ask to see Aponte’s license before letting him drive?
The Queens District Attorney’s office would not comment on the possibility of charges being filed against Ricatto, saying that the investigation into the entire episode is ongoing. A spokesperson said that more serious charges may
be brought against Aponte if the investigation warrants, contradicting the Daily News report, but declined to comment on what
would trigger a charge of vehicular manslaughter. You would think running over a child while driving without a valid license would suffice.