Unlicensed Driver Pays the Price for Killing Laurence Renard: $500

The unlicensed dump truck driver who struck and killed an Upper East Side woman last winter will walk away with a $500 fine.

Laurence Renard. Photo: ##http://www.dnainfo.com/20110124/upper-east-side/35yearold-woman-killed-by-dump-truck-on-upper-east-side##DNAinfo##

Diego Tapia-Ulloa, 23, was rounding the corner at First Avenue and E. 90th Street on the evening of January 24 when he hit 35-year-old Laurence Renard, who died at the scene. Tapia-Ulloa was arrested and charged with aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle in the third degree.

Renard’s death, along with that of pedestrian Jason King, prompted East Side residents and officials to call on NYPD and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance to step up enforcement against reckless drivers — specifically through VTL 1146, the enforcement mechanism behind New York State’s new vulnerable user laws.

On July 7, Tapia-Ulloa pled guilty in New York Criminal Court, and the fine was imposed. He was not charged for killing Renard.

“Clearly there should be a greater penalty than $500 for a professional driver who loses his license, and then drives illegally anyway, and kills someone,” says attorney Steve Vaccaro of Rankin & Taylor. “For starters, the driver should be prevented from driving for a significant period of time.”

But as Vaccaro notes, it’s hard to say what additional penalties might have been appropriate, as so little is known about the collision. “Was the truck driver really speeding as he turned the corner, as witnesses interviewed by the media claimed? Did Renard ‘dart’ in front of the speeding truck? Or was she in the crosswalk crossing with the light? The crash could have been mostly her fault, or mostly the trucker’s fault, because almost no meaningful information has been released by NYPD.” (Disclosure: Streetsblog has retained Vaccaro for legal services to expedite freedom of information requests.)

The guessing game that routinely ensues after a New York City traffic death is symptomatic of a dysfunctional system that fails victims at every level. Without crucial information withheld by police and prosecutors it is often impossible to judge whether justice has been served. A new law requiring NYPD to release traffic crash data is in its first stages of implementation, but while it will shed light on the location and main contributing factors of each crash, it will not divulge details of crash investigations.

Perversely, it could be that VTL 1146 is making it easier for drivers who injure and kill to escape more serious charges. VTL 1146 is enforced by NYPD and the Department of Motor Vehicles by way of traffic summonses and, while the DA may advise police to apply it in certain cases, it does not fall under the purview of the district attorney’s office except for repeat offenders. (Vance’s vehicular crimes staff have described violations of Elle’s Law and Hayley and Diego’s Law as “traffic infractions.”) The dump truck driver who backed over Jason King was charged with violating VTL 1146, as was Edwin Carrasco, the unlicensed driver who on June 30 killed Yolanda Casal and injured her daughter while backing up in pursuit of a parking spot on the Upper West Side. While VTL 1146 was intended to facilitate a minimum charge for careless driving, it looks to be evolving as the go-to in cases where more serious charges seem to be justified.

Like Diego Tapia-Ulloa, Edwin Carrasco was driving with a suspended license, and was also charged with third degree aggravated unlicensed operation. Streetsblog has received no indication from Vance’s office that additional charges against Carrasco may be forthcoming. It’s entirely possible that the unlicensed driver who killed Yolanda Casal will get off as easy as the unlicensed driver who killed Laurence Renard. But that’s only a guess.

  • mjd

    Presumption of innocence should go to the pedestrian.    

  • Eric McClure

    How is it, with all the various spycams around New York City, that there’s never any footage of pedestrian deaths?

  • carma

    thats a disgrace.  $500.  is 500 dollars the cost of a life????  

  • Andrew

    Windshield perspective.  I’m sure there’s plenty of footage, but why would the NYPD want to use it when it could be used against cops?

  • Driver

    No, $500 is the cost of the fine for the license violation.  Would a larger fine make anyone feel better about the tragedy?  I doubt it. 

  • Peter Meitzler

    Can we adopt strict liability, if not for every street, then for all crosswalks and bike lanes to start?  Strict liability is the presumption that the motorist is at fault. 

    From Wikipedia:
    “The concept of strict liability is also found in criminal law, though the same or similar concept may appear in contexts where the term itself is not used. Strict liability often applies to vehicular traffic offenses. In a speeding case, for example, whether the defendant knew that the posted speed limit was being exceeded is irrelevant. The prosecutor would need to prove only that the defendant was operating the vehicle in excess of the speed limit.”

    On Youtube (complete with Dutch accent):

    RoadPeace (UK) PDF:
    http://www.fevr.org/new/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Strict-liability-discussion-paper-April-2008.pdf

  • Peter Meitzler

    Can we adopt strict liability, if not for every street, then for all crosswalks and bike lanes to start?  Strict liability is the presumption that the motorist is at fault. 

    From Wikipedia:
    “The concept of strict liability is also found in criminal law, though the same or similar concept may appear in contexts where the term itself is not used. Strict liability often applies to vehicular traffic offenses. In a speeding case, for example, whether the defendant knew that the posted speed limit was being exceeded is irrelevant. The prosecutor would need to prove only that the defendant was operating the vehicle in excess of the speed limit.”

    On Youtube (complete with Dutch accent):

    RoadPeace (UK) PDF:
    http://www.fevr.org/new/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Strict-liability-discussion-paper-April-2008.pdf

  • carma

    Driver,
    I know that its the cost of the fine.  but it does seem grotesquely wrong that a life lost and the only penalty is $500. doesnt it?  and your right, it doesnt make anyone feel better for a larger fine since it doesnt bring back the dead.

  • Andrew

    A larger (and more consistently applied) fine might persuade drivers to drive a bit more cautiously.

    It’s good that he was penalized for driving without a license.  Do you think he should also be penalized for killing somebody?  Or is it OK to kill somebody as long as your driver’s license is valid?

  • George Ralph

    Jay Walker and The Pedestrians.

  • Brad Aaron

    Laurence Renard was crossing with the light. She was hit by a truck driver who was not licensed to operate a motor vehicle. Her body was cut in two.

    Your joke isn’t funny.

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