Queens DA Files Misdemeanor Charge Against Ibrihim Ahmed’s Killer

danbet.jpgQueens DA Richard A. Brown with Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum. Photo: Queens District Attorney’s Office

Alexander Aponte, the driver who hit and killed nine-year-old Ibrihim Ahmed, will be charged with aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle — driving without a license — according to a spokesperson with the Queens district attorney’s office.

Aponte, 22, was driving a campaign bus for City Council candidate Mike Ricatto when he hit Ibrihim as he was crossing a street in Ozone Park on January 6. The child died at the scene.

"What we do is charge by the laws on the books," said the spokesperson, when asked why additional charges were not warranted. "If Albany changes the law based on a victim’s injury or death, we would change the way we charge."

The ADA in the Aponte case is Lauren Silverman — information the spokesperson was hesitant to release.

Regardless of whether Silverman enjoys greater discretion than her office is letting on, this makes the City Council’s handling of Resolution 145 all the more infuriating. Earlier this week, a hearing on the reso, which would entreat state lawmakers to toughen penalties for those who drive with suspended or revoked licenses, was cut short. According to accounts, Public Safety Committee Chair Peter Vallone interrupted the testimony of several citizens, one of whom lost a child to a driver whose offense, in the eyes of police and prosecutors (also in Queens), didn’t rate as much as a traffic summons.

Aponte will appear in court on February 25. The charge against him is an unclassified misdemeanor carrying a maximum penalty of a $500 fine and/or up to 30 days in jail. 

  • Max Rockatansky

    Our culture accepts a certain number of innocents being sacrificed for speed and convenience. I’m sure the driver wasn’t looking to run over a child with his bus, on the other hand it’s perfectly acceptable for people to speed up on a yellow to beat the light. Somehow a greater awareness needs to be made toward the consequences of risky driving – starting with defining speeding as risky driving.

  • The way we design our infrastructure is going to lead to a certain number of “accidents” a year even for drivers seemingly doing everything right. But when a driver is clearly speeding, driving through a red light, or has a suspended license there need to be real consequences. The fact that we can’t even punish drivers in situations where they have clearly done something wrong is a little sad.

  • I think directing anger at the driver in instances like this is not the most productive approach: it is the system which promotes this kind of driving that most deserves our outrage. The streets are designed with only one user in mind — the motor vehicle operator — and the lack of enforcement of traffic law by the NYPD promotes irresponsible driving. Double parking, speeding, illegal u-turns are constantly overlooked. There are crashes where a driver is acting responsibly (I’m not alleging this is one) but street design still allows for non-motor-vehicle users’ deaths. While Aponte was driving with a suspended license and deserves consequences for his actions, the real culprit here is a government that values traffic movement over its citizens’ safety.

  • Fritz’s comment embodies what I see to be a significant problem with the knee-jerk reaction we often see in response to these stories. “But when a driver is clearly speeding, driving through a red light, or has a suspended license there need to be real consequences.” The driver in question here struck a child under unclear circumstances. He also had a suspended license. What does one have to do with the other? In the instance of a driver running a red light, there is causation. Likewise with speeding in areas with a significant numbers of pedestrians. I fail to see the causative link between a suspended license and this tragedy.

    I was watching an episode of Cops the other night where a man driving a pickup truck struck a pedestrian. This pedestrian happened to be jaywalking in the middle of an unlit street, late at night, wearing dark clothes. Instead of an investigation into the cause of the collision, however, the only thing investigating officers examined was whether the driver was intoxicated. Upon initially suspecting he was intoxicated, he alluded to his intention to charge the driver with manslaughter. After determining that the driver had a BAC of 0, however, he indicated the driver would not be charged at all. No mention was made of conducting a thorough investigation into the circumstances of the collision.

    It is this kind of shoddy excuse for proper police work that appears in coverage of these events in the media again and again. Sure, it’s a lot less work to have someone blow into a tube than perform a full accident reconstruction, but what is our goal? I should hope it would be justice, and not expedience.

    The reaction to this tragedy also smacks of a rush to judgment. He had a suspended license! Hang him! Tell me: Let us assume he was at fault in this collision. Had his license not been suspended, would striking the child suddenly become less egregious? I hope I am not the only one here who sees this as nonsensical.

    Perhaps an investigation was properly conducted and the DA determined the driver was not at fault. Until we know all of the details of the collision, not just the red herring of the driver’s licensure status, it seems we should reserve judgment. Should it be found what everyone else here seems to have determined by ESP, then I will be glad to grab my pitchfork and join the mob.

  • Uh-huh, Nan. Driver’s licenses are suspended because it is not safe to have the holder behind the wheel, right?

  • philipp

    is this the same DA who has hindered a proper investigation into the death of Andre Anderson in Far Rockaway?

    http://www.boingboing.net/2009/01/15/bikelight-that-paint.html
    http://times-up.org/index.php?page=ghost_bikes_anderson

    sure, when there is a public outcry he’ll help the kids, but when there isn’t, thpt! plus, if the driver is a cop friend, that apparently makes it more difficult for there to be justice.

  • Driver’s licenses are suspended for all sorts of reasons, ranging from failing to pay a fine, to the commission of more serious driving offenses such as DWI. Imposition of a suspension in the latter case is punitive, and in the former case it’s an incentive to get someone to pay his outstanding fines. In neither case does a suspension immediately imply it’s “unsafe” for said individual to get behind the wheel, and by extension, lifting of a suspension doesn’t imply the converse.

  • So the government never has the obligation, much less the ability, to say “this person is a menace behind the wheel and will not be allowed to drive until they’ve proven themselves rehabilitated,” short of jailing the perpetrator? Is this your interpretation or is it backed up with documentation?

  • I’m not saying that at all. I am suggesting that the intent of the justice system is to allocate penalties in response to offenses that are proportional to those offenses. There is a punishment for driving without a license, and there is a separate punishment for vehicular manslaughter. This individual is being punished for the latter, but apparently the DA determined that the latter did not apply. The idea prevalent here is that, because this individual had a suspended license, he is immediately guilty of causing the collision and should be punished for homicide. It seems that folks think that a proper investigation is only warranted if he were properly licensed.

  • brent

    Why even spend $100 and wait a half a day getting a valid license when for just a few hundred more you don’t have to do squat, plus get to murder a bystander or two to boot?

  • “The driver in question here struck a child under unclear circumstances. He also had a suspended license. What does one have to do with the other?”

    There is a clear cause-and-effect relationship. If the driver had respected the law, and refrained from driving with a suspended license, the child would be alive today.

    You can parse the legal technicalities all you like, but we will not ignore the fact that this man broke the law, and in the process of doing so, killed an innocent child.

  • philipp

    ugh, the first link regarding andre anderson was supposed to be this one:

    http://www.ghostbikes.org/new-york-city/andre-anderson

    not the boing boing thing that i checked out from the other story.

    in any case, regardless of whether a driver is properly licensed or not, he/she should be held responsible for the death. that should be the principal crime in question, not whether or not he had the right to drive. what happens when someone shoots someone? does it really matter whether the shooter had a gun license or not? going after the licensing issue is a lame way to avoid the REAL problem – needless death. of course, god forbid the good ol’ US justice system goes after someone for using their car as a weapon regardless of whether or not it was intentional!

  • Bjorn

    The Bicycle Transportation Alliance in Oregon is pushing for a vehicular homicide law that would increase the penalties for drivers who kill while driving with a suspended license or other aggravating factors.

    http://www.oregoncycling.org/2008/07/widow-bta-call-for-vehicular-homicide-law/

  • tebici

    “of course, god forbid the good ol’ US justice system goes after someone for using their car as a weapon regardless of whether or not it was intentional!”

    I think “weapon” implies intent except when a device (e.g. a gun) has no other purpose except as a weapon. We have a word for when someone is harmed in the normal course of daily activities and it is unintentional. It is called an “accident”. Accidents happen every day. It’s tragic. Children drown in pools or choke on toys; we don’t normally prosecute the manufacturer or installer or the babysitter unless there is proof of intent to harm or extreme negligence. People run over and kill their own children in the driveway. They have to live with that for the the rest of their lives. I agree with earlier comments about many streets not being built in a way that pedestrians can coexist safely with vehicles, but that’s not something individuals can fix and no matter how “safe” we are there will always be accidents. If driving in a straight line in accordance with traffic regulations is “using a car as a weapon” that I’m sure most everyone here is guilty. “Intent” absolutely matters, as does “negligence”. If neither applies than it is a tragic “accident”. In fact negligence might just as well apply to parents who let their child play in the street unattended or fail to teach them to look both ways before crossing the street (of course one would hardly want to prosecute a greaving parent for what they have already learned in the hardest way imaginable).

    We should certainly do everything we can as a society to minimize accidents but we can’t jail everyone who is the victim of statistics. If you drive a car it could just as easily have been you behind the wheel. The only way to bring the chances of killing someone with your 2-ton hunk of metal to zero is not to drive at all. If you are willing to make that committment then I commend you. I personally bicycle most of the time so my chances of killing someone are dramatically reduced. That’s not why I cycle, but it’s a pleasant side effect. I certainly don’t expect to impose that on everyone, but we all make seemingly benign choices everyday that affect others and we can’t be held responsible for all of them. Hopefully we all do the best we can.

  • Ian Turner

    Tebici,

    Let me pose a question to you: If hundreds of people were killed in New York every year by construction cranes, would you be outraged? If so, why is it any different when people are killed by automobiles? Just as with construction cranes, a big part of avoiding accidents involves ensuring that the only people who operate the device are those capable of doing so safely. That is why we want to hold drivers accountable.

    As far as this “deadly weapon” business, intent matters. In many jurisdictions (dunno about New York), the definition of a deadly weapon includes any “device or instrumentality which, in the manner it is used or intended to be used, is calculated or likely to produce death or great bodily harm”, which certainly includes a car when driven recklessly.

  • tebici

    “If hundreds of people were killed in New York every year by construction cranes, would you be outraged?”

    Sure. I just wouldn’t jail the next crane operator who caused a death. In fact I’d take it as a hint that maybe the problem was bigger than the operator. If only one person died from construction cranes then I would think maybe the operator was a particular idiot and deserved scrutiny. If there are hundreds then its the system that deserves scrutiny (maybe that means licensure or stricter licensure as you suggest).

    40,000+ people die in traffic accidents every year. It’s terrible. I don’t think this poor schmuck should get the brunt of all our righteous anger. IF it is proven that he was driving recklessly then he should get his due in proportion to his crime AND in the proportion so the normal expected punishment for such a crime. If we want to change the expected punishment that should happen before the commission of the crime.

    Even safe operation of equipment can result in injuries. Some risk is inherent in walking out the door in the morning. The only way to ensure zero vehicle fatalities is to eliminate cars (in the heart of NYC that might not be a terrible idea). The only way to ensure zero swimming pool drownings is to eliminate swimming pools.

    One benefit of enabling alternative transportation is to make it possible, logistically and politically, to put much stiffer penalties on bad drivers. Right now, in most of the country, driving is so essential that taking away someone’s driver license prevents them from operating as a normal member of society and certainly would dramatically change their lifestyle, prevents them or makes it enormously complicated to have a job or buy groceries (this is less true in most of NYC). As a result even people with bad records of DUI can get “day licenses” to drive to work or other concessions. If alternative transportation was viable you could impound their car. And maybe you would jail them for a few days if they if they drove without a license.

    In some cases it’s not a matter of stiffer penalties but more uniform enforcement. Right now tons of people speed and most people see getting a ticket as simply drawing the short straw rather than appropriate punishment for bad behaviour. We could institute more effective means of enforcement for traffic violations. Speeding tickets for instance should probably be less severe but more frequent. We could institute automated tickets rather than this lottery based on whether you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. They’re trying to do this in my town with red light running and camera enforcement where you just get a citation in the mail; there is a lot of resistance. If most people do something all the time, like speeding, do you really think the best way to deal with it is it to punish severely someone who does the same thing but it results in injury? A much more effective way would be to make it clear to people that they will consistently be cited and reduce the behavior rather than just getting righteous about punishment when it goes awry and someone is already dead or injured. Is the point to get an eye for an eye or prevent the spilling of blood in the first place? Maybe we could also raise the driving age to 18 or 21. But all this requires changing the system, not finding a scapegoat. Not to mention street design that improves pedestrian safety. I could go on.

  • Ian Turner

    Tebici,

    I think we agree about a lot of things. One of the biggest obstacles in making streets in New York more livable is that enforcement is nonexistant: The NYPD fails to issue tickets in all but the most truly outrageous incidents, and the officers themselves are often flagrant violators. There is zero will from the NYPD brass to change either of these situations, and zero political will from the executive to change the NYPD brass.

    Given the foregoing political environment, I think it does make a lot of sense to stiffen the penalties of killing while driving. To return to the crane example, if crane regulation is impossible, then stiff penalties for screwups will at least give crane operators more reason to be cautious. I don’t think anyone here is asking for ex post facto treatment but rather expressing outrage at the status quo.

    I agree that in much of the country it is literally impossible to live a normal lifestyle without a private automobile. Court cases in Louisiana have held it a natural right, specifically meaning the state cannot revoke licenses of uninsured drivers. In New York City, however, this is plainly not the case: Car owners are in the minority, and transit options abound. There is no reason, in this place, to allow drivers to retain their privilege after killing or injuring pedestrians.

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