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.
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.