Want to Reduce Pedestrian Deaths? Stop Letting Their Killers Walk.

In her Streetsblog Network post on Tuesday, Sarah covered the alarming recent spike in New Jersey pedestrian fatalities. According to stats cited by the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, more than 90 pedestrians have died on New Jersey roads so far this year, a nation-leading number that accounts for an astounding 30 percent of that state’s total traffic deaths. Officials, meanwhile, are perplexed as to the causes of — and therefore possible solutions to — this serious public health threat.

ocstop.jpgInvestigation continues after another recent pedestrian death in Ocean City, NJ, where locals say they are accustomed to reckless drivers and crashes. Photo: pressofAtanticCity.com

The case of Alice Myers, linked from today’s Weekly Carnage, should give them pause. Last December 13 at around 6:30 p.m., Myers was crossing the street near a Morristown hospital complex, where her daughter was undergoing cancer treatment, when she was hit by a driver who did not stop. According to accounts in the Star-Ledger, Andy Maguino was driving a car for a local pizzeria when he struck the 72-year-old and kept going. He returned to the scene an hour later and told police he was the driver. Myers died shortly after midnight.

Though he somehow got a job delivering pizzas, police discovered that Maguino did not have a drivers license. Despite the brazen recklessness and flouting of the law that led to Alice Myers’ death, prosecutors and a judge agreed last week to let Maguino off with three years of probation and a $500 fine, plus 75 hours of community service and $162 in "penalties." Explains the Star-Ledger:

[T]here was no recklessness by Maguino, who was driving under the 35 mph speed limit. He was not intoxicated, and there were no mechanical problems with the car, Morris County Assistant Prosecutor Kelley Lavery told Judge Thomas Manahan.

Myers was dressed in dark clothing when she entered the street as the northbound Maguino had a green light. A nearby street light also was burned out and a crosswalk signal did not work, Lavery said.

"This was an accident," Lavery said. "All indications are he was not operating his vehicle recklessly. The state decided that ethically it could not pursue a death-by-auto charge."

As a result, prosecutors ruled out more-serious death-by-auto or manslaughter charges, and Maguino pleaded guilty to third-degree leaving the scene of an accident, which has no presumption of jail time, and to a traffic summons of driving without a license.

Judge Manahan agreed to the plea deal for Maguino in spite of protests from Myers’ husband and son.

If New Jersey authorities are serious about reducing the number of pedestrian deaths by auto, they would do well to examine what’s happening in their courtrooms along with conditions on their streets. Not that New Yorkers have room to chide, but in any state where an unlicensed driver can take a life and remain immune even to charges of recklessness — and in cases where the victim is left to die in the street, no less — it’s practically guaranteed that motorists will feel free to endanger pedestrians at will.

For further proof of the mindset engendered by such cavalier attitudes toward street safety, check out the comment sections of the Maguino stories. Notice how many readers are far more distressed by Maguino’s immigration status — he’s a Peruvian reportedly in the US illegally — than the fact that he killed an innocent human being.

  • Manzell B

    I can see both sides of the issue here – on one hand, NJ drivers are out of control, pay little attention to posted regulations and exist amidst what I consider to be a “culture of non-compliance”.

    Furthermore, police do little to curb the most basic of driving regulations, such as proper signaling, stopping at stop signs and red lights, obeying turn orders, and so further.

    And additionally, pedestrians frequently do not abide by pedestrian controls either, freely jaywalking, crossing during greens, and other behaviors that put them (and other drivers) at risk. Basically, New Jersey is a traffic free-for-all of Mad Max proportions.

    On the other hand, how would I feel if I were Maguino, from all appearances a conscientious drivers by the standards set for him by the police and other New Jersey drivers? Why should he be singled out and punished (basically have his life ruined)? It isn’t as if any amount of punishment to other drivers would have changed this outcome – it isn’t as if he decided to “risk it” this one time.

    To sum everything up, New Jersey police need to enforce the laws they already have in relationship to traffic and pedestrian controls. Drivers need to obey the laws and be conscientious of pedestrians, and pedestrians need to be obeying the laws themselves. Plenty of places in this country “get it right” – at least, not as wrong as New Jersey. It doesn’t take magic.

  • Manzell B

    haha. I meant, crossing at reds. not greens.

  • His immigration status is probably what caused him to flee the scene of the crime in the first place. But forgetting that for the moment, and assuming he had the right of way as stated in the quote, what is the appropriate punishment supposed to be?

  • [T]here was no recklessness by Maguino, who was driving under the 35 mph speed limit.

    There is part of the problem. In New York City, the speed limit is 30 mph. In California cities, the speed limit is 25 mph.

    A lower speed limit means fewer accidents and less chance of death when accidents do occur.

  • the risk taken by the driver must be substantial enough that the driver’s failure to recognize the degree of risk is a gross deviation from what a “reasonable person” would recognize.

    From the Maureen McCormick post, back in March.

    The guy was driving at night, he had a green light, the streetlight was out, he wasn’t intoxicated, and he was driving under the speed limit. What particular risk was he taking, and how does that deviate from what the reasonable person would recognize?

    In my opinion the prosecution agreed to the plea bargain because the defendant would have gone free if he had gone to trial.

  • J:Lai

    There are a lot of examples of egregious permissiveness on the part of law enforcement and the judicial system with regard to drivers hurting or killing pedestrians, but this is not one of them.
    Based on the facts in the article, it’s hard to see how this driver merits any severe punishment beyond driving without a license and leaving the scene of the accident.
    Why not focus on one of the many cases of drivers violating traffic laws, driving while intoxicated, etc, which also has resulted in little or no penalty?

  • I agree that we should hold drivers to much stricter standards when it comes to reckless driving and violating safety laws.

    But if I were driving a bus, or an airplane, or a helicopter without the proper license, and someone were injured or killed as a result, I would certainly expect that this lack would lead to a heavy punishment. How is driving a car any different?

  • First thanks Streetsblog for covering this.

    I have to say (and I should do so more publicly in the local papers) that I really have to question who this prosecutor is working for, the prosecution or the defense!

    MAGIUNO WAS NOT QUALIFIED UNDER NEW JERSEY LAW TO OPERATE A CLASS B MOTORVEHICLE!!!!

    I would think this fact alone would make anything else he did a felony! This should not be viewed as a unfortunate accident but as crime that occurred because Mr Magiuno was not qualified to set foot behind the steering wheel but did so anyway.

    To me this is just like licensed driver getting behind the wheel while drunk or otherwise intoxicated. In each case a person is not legally qualified to drive.

    I’d wish our legal system would start seeing things this way.

  • Damn! Steve beat me to it by 10 minutes!

  • clever-title

    I have to agree with J:Lai. This incident really was an accident, assuming the the facts in this story are as presented. The driver of the vehicle was not operating the vehicle in an reckless manner. He was not speeding or running the lights.

    If the vehicle in this accident were a bicycle, and the cyclist struck a pedestrian who died due to head trauma from hitting the pavement, would we be reflexively calling the operator reckless?

  • Brian

    No license, a hit and run and a man dies he gets a $500 fine!

  • Brian

    39:4-129 Action in case of accident.

    39:4-129. (a) The driver of any vehicle, knowingly involved in an accident resulting in injury or death to any person shall immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the accident or as close thereto as possible but shall then forthwith return to and in every event shall remain at the scene until he has fulfilled the requirements of subsection (c) of this section. Every such stop shall be made without obstructing traffic more than is necessary. Any person who shall violate this subsection shall be fined not less than $2,500 nor more than $5,000, or be imprisoned for a period of 180 days, or both. The term of imprisonment required by this subsection shall be imposed only if the accident resulted in death or injury to a person other than the driver convicted of violating this section.

    Quick google and got this for NJ hit and run

  • Yes, clever-title, there is presumably recklessness on the part of a cyclist that hits a pedestrian hard enough to kill. The occasion to ‘reflexively’ call that behavior reckless arises a few orders of magnitude less often with bicycles than it does with motor vehicles, but the local papers make sure we hear about it several times over and many of us apply the same standard of recklessness that you see here.

    Presumption of fault on the part of a vehicle striking a pedestrian is not this base reflex that you allege; it is a product of refection on human frailty. It is the law in some countries of northern Europe, correlated with low pedestrian death rates we could only dream of. The laws here reflect a lower standard of care expected from drivers, and evidently a lower value on the life of pedestrians. We only bother prosecuting gross deviations from our repulsive ‘norm’, and I share the surprise of others that this hit-and-run was not considered such. In some sense these outlying cases don’t matter—the real problem is that famous norm—but by drawing attention both to egregious vehicular fatalities like this as well as run of the mill vehicular fatalities, Streetsblog is promoting a wider cultural awareness of the human cost of automobiles. When pizza delivery guys don’t even need to get a license to drive around constantly, don’t stop when they hit and kill someone, and walk away with a minor punishment, you glimpse the depth of our society’s failure to take the operation of motor vehicles seriously.

  • huricano

    I don’t think being more punitive with people, and putting more individuals who are not really criminals in jail is a good solution at all. Those of us who support non-motorized transport, and greater public transit, should lobby hard for better infrastructure, education, urban design and general conscience about walking. Throwing the book at a few people is not going to help anyone.

  • Kevin Love

    Presumption of fault is not just a Northern European thing. Ontario has a similar law, as do all other Canadian provinces that I am aware of. I am rather shocked that there are jurisdictions in the USA that do not have similar laws. Here’s how it reads in Ontario. From sections 192 and 193 of the Highway Traffic Act:

    192. (1) The driver of a motor vehicle or street car is liable for loss or damage sustained by any person by reason of negligence in the operation of the motor vehicle or street car on a highway. 2005, c. 31, Sched. 10, s. 2.

    193. (1) When loss or damage is sustained by any person by reason of a motor vehicle on a highway, the onus of proof that the loss or damage did not arise through the negligence or improper conduct of the owner, driver, lessee or operator of the motor vehicle is upon the owner, driver, lessee or operator of the motor vehicle. 2005, c. 31, Sched. 10, s. 3

  • clever-title

    So I ask, what recklessness or negligence did the driver display in hitting the victim? He was abiding by the posted speed limits and complying with what appeared (to him) to be functional traffic control devices. His sentencing for leaving the scene of a fatal accident was less than the sentencing guidelines, but that is the fault of the prosecutor for offering the deal.

    If you want to look at true negligence, look to the traffic engineers in Morristown. They approved the siting of a parking facility across the street from a hospital. The street is a 4-lane arterial that has ramps to & from an interstate next to the hospital. The street has a 35 mph (nearly 80kph) speed limit in an area where pedestrians are expected to cross.

    Wouldn’t a responsible design include a pedestrian bridge, or at least a real traffic light in place of a flashing pedestrian crossing sign? When a traffic light is out, drivers approach with caution; a broken flasher sign looks the same as one indicating “no pedestrians.”

    The even bigger question, considering the inadequate design, how long were the crossing sign and streetlight out of order?

  • All of us here are for better infrastructure, clever. (Though not necessarily flashing lights and pedestrian overpasses.) But raising the standards of driving has got to be part of the picture as well. Standards are meaningless without penalties, which are meaningless without enforcement, and that is meaningless without punishment. It’s fine to feel sympathy for those whose carelessness has been fatal, whose circumstances have led them to make very bad decisions, but you have to balance that with sympathy for the victim and those whose lives can be saved by taking driving seriously—starting with punishing the culpable.

    In pedestrian fatalities I relate more to the pedestrian, because I walk far more than I drive, so for me the opening question in your latest comment is absurd. But the answer to it under current law is that driving without a license (training, certification: these things matter) is reckless at all times and especially when it results in death. Fleeing the scene of a crash is reckless and illegal. (And that’s assuming, as the DA has done without explanation, that the driver was not speeding.) You don’t have the option of driving away, weighing your options, and coming back to undo that crime. If we don’t prosecute these existing laws, we have no hope of people taking them seriously, and we have no hope of improving the law to better protect the vulnerable. That’s why this matters. No one disputes that the prosecution shortfall is the DA office’s fault; the point is that this is unacceptable.

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