Unlicensed Drivers, Coddled By the Law, Kill Three More New Yorkers

In handing down a prison term of 20-to-life for Auvryn Scarlett, the garbage hauler who had stopped taking his epilepsy medication before suffering a seizure behind the wheel and killing two pedestrians last year, Justice Richard Carruthers described the convicted as "a time bomb ready to explode at any moment on the streets of New York." The same could be said of the countless number of motorists roaming the city at any given moment though their licenses have been suspended or revoked due to a history of recklessness. Two such drivers killed three people in separate crashes over the Thanksgiving holiday.

sabados.jpgPeter and Lillian Sabados. Photo via Daily News

Sheldon Reid had a prior conviction for driving without a license when he struck 40-year-old Sonya Powell, as her fiance watched in horror, on Baychester Avenue in the Wakefield section of the Bronx last Friday. Forty-eight hours earlier, elderly husband and wife Peter and Lillian Sabados were run down by a hit-and-run driver as they walked to Thanksgiving Mass. Their killer, 26-year-old Allmir Lekperic, had a string of at least 29 license suspensions since 2006, according to the Times.

Clearly, Powell and the Sabadoses aren’t just victims of individuals, but institutional failure. Even in those relatively rare instances when the system identifies drivers who are a menace, there is no mechanism to stop them from getting right back behind the wheel. Revoking a license is no deterrent. In both cases this weekend, incarceration, or at the very least the impounding of vehicles, could have saved lives.

These crimes also expose a failure of political leadership. Regardless
of the toll recidivist illegal drivers continue to exact in death and
misery, Mayor Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly have shown no
apparent interest. As for the City Council, a resolution urging state
action was unceremoniously dismissed
just days after nine-year-old Ibrihim Ahmed was killed by an unlicensed driver last January, and has not seen
action since. A cursory Streetsblog archive search revealed three
additional local fatalities at the hands of unlicensed drivers in the
interim eleven months, including pedestrians Dorothea Wallace and 9-year-old Joshua Ganzfried.

We commented last week that, while a positive step, the relatively narrow focus of Leandra’s Law leaves New Yorkers, adults and kids alike, unprotected from dangerous drivers whose negligence does not involve alcohol or drugs. As reported by Gotham Gazette, a law prompted by the death of Ibrihim Ahmed would attach stiffer penalties to the prevalent and often deadly crime of driving without a license. The bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Robert Sweeney, would classify vehicular assault and manslaughter as felonies in cases where a driver’s license has been suspended or revoked. This would mark a major shift for New York State in that it would apply in instances of crashes where the driver is not under the influence.

When Alexander Aponte was charged only for driving without a license in the killing of Ahmed, we asked Queens DA Richard Brown’s office for an explanation. "What we do is charge by the laws on the books," a spokesperson said. "If Albany
changes the law based on a victim’s injury or death, we would change
the way we charge." In the absence of guidance from the mayor, police commissioner and City Council members, perhaps future Public Advocate Bill de Blasio or Manhattan DA Cy Vance could fill the void by joining Assembly Member Sweeney and others in a serious campaign to keep unlicensed drivers off our streets by adopting "Ibrihim’s Law," before it’s too late for someone else’s child, fiance, or grandparents.

As for Allmir Lekperic, the Daily News reports that he is free to drive again. For bringing two lives to a brutal premature end, Lekperic was charged with leaving the scene and driving without a license.

  • David_K

    Right. It’s an institutional failure: traffic crimes are laughed at by rank and file police in this city, and ignored by the leadership leadership.

    The rub is that our mayor is supposed to get it. Isn’t he a public health guy? (endowed the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health; showed leadership on the smoking ban and trans-fat ban, etc…) Where is the leadership here?

    This is a public health crisis: Traffic accidents were the 10th-leading cause of death in the world in 2004, behind lung cancer and ahead of diabetes, and they are on track to become the fifth-leading cause by 2030 — that’s from a 2009 report by the World Health Organization, which you can read about here:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/15/AR2009061501544.html

    This needs to be taken seriously.

  • vnm

    The Pope takes traffic fatalities seriously. The NYPD and our prosecutors do not.

  • Anyone caught driving on a suspended license should face a mandatory life sentence.

    Mandatory. No options for the judges. No mitigating circumstances. No forgiveness.

  • kapes

    Life sentence? Really Mark? Please tell me I’m not picking up on your sarcasm.
    If your aren’t being sarcastic, you sound like those fools who say all sex offenders should be drawn and quarters or hung up by their testicles. No, driving with a suspended license should certainly not result in a mandatory life sentence. That is absurd. Should they face some jail time? Sure. But life? You’re making us reasonalbe livable streets advocates sound foolish.
    Please tell me you were joking.

  • Emily Litella

    Of course he’s joking. What I find remarkable is that in a system where enforcement of traffic laws is relatively lax, these offenders still manage to puch the envelope of what is acceptable. For every license suspension and every injury/death these people cause there must be thousands of little crimes of bullying and recklessness that they have earlier gotten away with. Ever notice that if get a red light camera ticket somewhere you will never get a second one at the same spot? Suddenly you find it so much easier to comply with the law and stop because that is a case where you know that enforcement is 100% assured.

  • I believe that carriers of unlicensed guns have mandatory minimums, why no unlicensed drivers?

  • brent

    What is the point of a driver’s license, anyhow?

  • Damian

    We have that problem in AK too. A lady recently caused a fatal crash. She had at least 4 DUIs in the past 26 years and was driving severly intoxicated on a revoked license. She is being charged with murder this time.
    http://www.adn.com/news/alaska/crime/story/1007334.html

  • John Travolta just lost his 16 years old son for epilepsy.

    Can the prosecutor, judge, jury & your tabloid paper certainly say that the boy quit taking his anti-seizure medications so he could die from his Epileptic seizures?

    No, I don’t think so.

    Struggling with this deadly menace, Epilepsy, for the last 10 years, no prosecutor, judge, jury or tabloid paper is going to tell me, I’m having seizures because I’m NOT taking my medications. I know what I’m going through, more than those wicked-sadist clowns who pry on misery of others.

    The same applies for the New York garbage truck hauler who had seizures, while he was desperately trying to make a living just like you & killed two British tourists.
    As if the injustice of living with Epilepsy was not unbearable enough, the wicked sadist prosecutor, jury & judge sentenced the epileptic man to more than 20 years, as if the driver made “willful intent” to murder the tourists.
    To find out the hardships of Epilepsy patients, search all over the Internet, you will find people having seizures, strokes (medical problems) & getting involved in car accidents.
    The injustice is, some get lynched for their unfortunate medical disorders while some are treated like patients & get a free pass to live on with their lives.
    This epileptic man should fight the injustice all the way to supreme court.
    After all, injustice against one is injustice against everyone.

    Another Epileptic,
    http://www.myspace.com/myseizures

  • BicyclesOnly

    In New York, drivers licenses are suspended if the person pleads not guilty to a moving violation but fails to show in court. This happened to me in connection with a bogus moving violation I received while bicycling with friends on a Friday night late in the month. NYPD assured me the summons was invalid and there was no need for me to attend the hearing, but I got the suspension anyway (I was ultimately exonerated and the suspension rescinded). The point is that a suspension can happen to anyone. -n contrast, though I can’t say for sure, 20+ suspensions in the span of a few years probably means something is very seriously wrong.

  • Kaja

    Epileptic dude: It sucks that you have epilepsy, but if you’re driving and in danger of having seizures, you can go straight to hell. I don’t care what your condition is; putting others in danger as a result of it means you’re a giant d-bag.

    It’s not willful intent, it’s criminal negligence. Same thing as far as the dead folks are concerned. Shut up and get out.

  • Another Epileptic:

    Operating a car (or a garbage truck, in this case) is not a civil or a human right, and if one is physically incapable of handling same in a safe manner, they do not and should not receive that privilege.

    You wanna know what’s an injustice? An injustice is that Jacqueline Timmins and Andrew Hardie lost their lives simply from walking across a street, and their six children no longer have parents. Their sisters and brothers no longer have a sibling, their parents no longer have a child, their grandchildren will never know grandma or grandpa. What about Jacqueline Timmins’ and Andrew Hardie’s “livings”? Or their lives, period?

    My condolences to what you and others have to go through, but again – you wanna talk about a “deadly menace”? How about tons of steel smashing into a human body at 30 or 40 or 50 miles an hour or more? For that matter, even being hit at 3 or 4 miles an hour can cause serious injury or death.

    This happens every day in America, and it’s time for it to stop.

  • What’s really awesome about the license-suspension system is that after your license has been suspended or revoked, you can still get a conditional license to allow you to drive to work (just not to the club, I guess). After reading this informative brochure I’ve come to believe that fiscal considerations, not safety ones, are the underpinning of the whole licensing system. Check out the “Driver Responsibility Program” if you don’t believe me.

    “What is the point of a driver’s license, anyhow?” asks Brent, above. To make money for the state, obviously.

  • J. Mork

    The real injustice is a transportation system that excludes people who can’t safely operate a motor vehicle. I understand the frustration of AE. Perhaps he or she will join us in advocating for more inclusive means of transportation for all.

  • J. Mork –

    Of course, you bring up a point we all agree with here. We need to build places where owning and driving a motor vehicle is not a requirement for making a living.

    Although, I certainly can’t agree with your idea “the real injustice”. I’ll say it again, the “real injustice” is when people can’t walk across a street without putting their lives on the line.

    Re: this garbage truck driver – he worked in New York City. There are over a million ways to make a living in New York City that do not require the operation of a motor vehicle.

    Nobody’s “excluding” anyone here.

    I’ll get personal here for a bit. I lost a bunch of my hearing to meningitis over a decade ago. I don’t work too well on phones. I haven’t sued the City of Portland because they won’t let me work as a police or 911 dispatcher.

    Should I?

    Do you consider it an injustice that I’m “excluded” from working as a 911 operator?

    Let’s leave aside the p.c. bullshit and insert some common sense here, eh?

  • Streetsman

    I heard the mayor say on the radio this morning in response to the media not covering America’s shooting epidemic as part of his anti-gun platform, “there’s the equivalent of a Virginia Tech every day in this country and you guys don’t cover it” so I know he gets the big picture stuff. But there are over 100 dead and 9,000 injured daily in car accidents in America and that doesn’t get covered. I think there’s almost twice as many traffic deaths in New York City every year as there are homicides. He should be making this a bigger priority from a legislative and enforcement standpoint.

  • I think there’s almost twice as many traffic deaths in New York City every year as there are homicides.

    No. Five year figures (2002-6) record 1,811 homicides by firearm, 1,060 unintentional deaths of pedestrians, 933 unintentional deaths in motor vehicles, and 580 homicides by cutting. There are also 372 suicides by firearm.

    Both the firearm totals and the homicide totals outnumber traffic deaths.

  • J. Mork

    Jay,

    I’d say that both of the injustices we mention are different ways of saying the same thing — cars are given too much freedom to the exclusion of other modes.

    I was addressing the plight of people who can’t drive in general. It just happened to be in the thread about the garbage truck driver, but you’re right, what I said isn’t applicable in that case.

  • Ned

    The vehicle being driven by anyone who is driving after having their license suspended or revoked should be immediately subject to forfeiture, whether the driver is the owner or not Also, an investigation should be launched in cases where the unlicensed driver is driving a vehicle owned by another and if it is determined that that party willingly allowed the unlicensed driver to use the vehicle in question that party should subject to permanent loss of license and jail time.

  • I still think that licenced drivers cause most of the accidents.

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