Morgenthau: Negligent Crane Riggers, Beware. Negligent Drivers, Carry On.

china_chalet_van.jpgNo charges have been filed against the driver responsible for the fatal China Chalet van crash. Photo: New York Times

Yesterday the Department of Buildings released a report faulting improper rigging in the March 2008 crane collapse that killed seven people on 51st Street. The rigger and his employer were indicted in January on charges of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, assault and reckless endangerment, City Room reminds us — the result of a vigorous response from Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau:

The collapse, and another fatal crane accident three months later,
led to a series of investigations by Mr. Morgenthau’s office and the
city Department of Investigation that exposed corruption and
incompetence in the building agency’s Cranes and Derricks Division and
led to several arrests.

That inquiry, as well as the death of two firefighters at the former
Deutsche Bank tower, exposed missteps by the Buildings Department and
other city, state and federal agencies and led to reforms and sweeping
changes in how the city regulates and oversees construction.

Meanwhile, Morgenthau’s office has sat on another case of deadly on-the-job negligence: the restaurant van driver whose three-ton vehicle killed two young children in Chinatown this January after he left it double-parked and idling. The driver could have prevented that fatal collision simply by turning off the ignition and setting the emergency brake, a far easier task than rigging a 22-story crane.

If Morgenthau’s office should decide to pursue charges of criminal negligence in this case, it could help set an important precedent: that drivers should be expected to exercise greater caution in dense urban areas where their actions carry disproportionate risk.

At Monday’s rally outside Morgenthau’s office, Jon Adler, a representative for the victims’ families, explained that the legal standard for determining criminal negligence hinges upon what a "reasonable person" would be expected to do in a given situation. "A reasonable person driving a vehicle of that nature would — if they had to double-park it — turn it off," he said. "The man made a conscious decision to leave that vehicle running, and he accepted the risk. The consequences of two children dying from him accepting that risk — he didn’t even get issued a summons. There is nothing done by the DA in terms of enforcement to act as a deterrent to any other driver doing the same thing."

In a city where sidewalks are full of people, residents need the force of law to protect them from the risks that accompany the operation of multi-ton vehicles. "If you look around where this occurred, it occurred on a crowded Chinatown street, so you have to take that into consideration," said Peter Goldwasser, staff attorney at Transportation Alternatives. "It wasn’t a rural country road."

  • Don’t know if it was an actual quote, but I heard someone report that the DA’s office said their “hands are tied.” Tied by what?

    Now seriously, why the f is it that so many people whose job involves a large vehicle make a regular practice out of this?

    Why is it that every single day in the city you can find multiple trucks and vans left running and unattended? Why? What do they gain from that stupid practice?

  • Don’t know if it was an actual quote, but I heard someone report that the DA’s office said their “hands are tied.” Tied by what?

    By that master of self-constraint, Reverse Houdini, of course!

  • Kaja Geis

    They do it because it is one less thing to think about, during your extremely routine job.

    That isn’t at all surprising to me; in fact, it’s understandable.

    Professional driver licensing exists to address this. Lots of people are capable of operating a car their whole lives sans negligent manslaughter. They can have licenses. People who screw up, shouldn’t.

  • Why is it that every single day in the city you can find multiple trucks and vans left running and unattended? Why? What do they gain from that stupid practice?

    I ask myself the same question. Most of these vehicles are working vehicles and you think employers would require them to turn off their engines to save money. I have that emergency vehicles have to always be left running, but other than the precious temperature sensitive narcotics medics might be carrying I can’t think of a single other reason why anyone would need to leave the engine running(excluding anything else that is temperature sensitive). If you are double parked or blocking a hydrant it should be a quick trip anyway so temperature should not be an issue. Anyone have some good reasoning?

  • “A reasonable person driving a vehicle of that nature would — if they had to double-park it — turn it off,” he said.

    Or even set the handbrake. Nobody uses handbrakes?

  • I say down with automatic transmissions. You either have to using the PARKING brake or turn it off.

  • I know a guy who’s from France, where automatic transmissions are rare, and drives a lot. He told me that when he moved here he bought a car with automatic, and then switched back to manual because it helped him to pay better attention to the road.

  • CBrinkman

    ” but other than the precious temperature sensitive narcotics medics might be carrying I can’t think of a single other reason why anyone would need to leave the engine running(excluding anything else that is temperature sensitive).”

    I don’t understand this whole “medic/ambulance” thing (I’m in SF, I don’t think we have these citizen medics) – My sister was a large animal vet and carried around temp sensitve meds in her work truck all the time, always – she had a little cooler that plugged into the ciggy lighter/charger and kept stuff cool for hours while she was out vaccinating cows in hot Colorado summer weather. How many of these medic cars can there be? Boondogle like most parking permits I guess.

  • Thanks for calling bullshit, C! There are actual volunteer ambulances, and I’d imagine that they have refrigerators that can run on battery power for a certain amount of time.

    Regardless, this is clearly not one of them. As you say, probably just as legitimate as the “child protective services” that are basically mail-order parking-permit printers.

  • Albert Ahronheim

    I’ve always assumed that people who’d rather let their engine idle “for only a short time” rather than turn it off and on again are probably observing the likely urban myth “rule” that stopping and restarting uses more energy than keeping an engine (or light bulb) on for the “short” period it could be off. When “only” thirty seconds drags on to 2 minutes or 20, wasting much more energy than it could possibly take to restart, then an important energy issue becomes a safety issue as well.

  • Lee

    It used to be true with mechanical ignition that stopping and starting used more gas than leaving it idle – if you were talking about a stop light. However modern cars & trucks have electronic ignition that doesn’t use any gas, but rather a battery who’s charge is maintained reasonably efficiently, so in these newer cars you save gas even if you start it again as soon as you stopped it. I stop my engine at stop lights all the time! Why waste gas? Besides it seems really stupid to leave the keys in the car unattended – couldn’t someone drive off with it?

  • Maybe even if the DAs remain MIA on this case in terms of the negligence/endangerment, maybe this could still become a catalyst to end the stupid “idling work vehicle” practice we’re discussing.

  • Hopefully.

  • Elso Felhasznalo

    Hopefully

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Grieving Chinatown Families to Morgenthau: We’re Not Going Away

|
Relatives of Hayley Ng and Diego Martinez, two preschoolers struck and killed by a van in Chinatown on January 22, continue to demand justice from Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. On WCBS television this week, Hayley’s aunt, Wendy Cheung, reiterated both families’ call for citizens to contact Morgenthau’s office and demand further action in the […]

If Cars Were Cranes …

|
Below is a statement from Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, issued last week after James Lomma was cleared of manslaughter for the deaths of two workers in a 2008 crane collapse: “Although we are disappointed with the Judge’s verdict, each case we have brought in this area has put increased scrutiny on the construction industry […]

City Launches New “LUCK!” Traffic Safety Campaign

|
Helpless to explain or address a recent rise in traffic deaths, city leaders today unveiled a new campaign that touts the prevailing factor in keeping New Yorkers safe from reckless and negligent drivers. Effective immediately, “LUCK!” print ads will adorn city buses, school buses, yellow cabs, livery cabs, garbage trucks, dump trucks, crane trucks, tractor-trailer […]