Unlicensed Driver Who Backed Over and Killed Yolanda Casal Fined $500

For at least the second time this year, an unlicensed driver will be punished with no more than a token fine for killing a Manhattan pedestrian.On June 30, Yolanda Casal, 78, and her 41-year-old daughter Anais Emmanuel were crossing Amsterdam Avenue near West 98th Street when Edwin Carrasco, 38, of Paterson, New Jersey, drove his Ford Explorer into them while backing up in pursuit of a parking spot. Casal was later pronounced dead at St. Luke’s Hospital; Emmanuel was hospitalized with injuries.

Reports indicated that Carrasco, who has a history of license suspensions and reckless driving, was initially charged by NYPD with driving with a suspended license, unsafe backing and failure to exercise due care. Though Carrasco was reportedly breaking at least two laws at the time of the crash, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance levied no charges related to the death or injuries caused by Carrasco’s negligence.

According to the online database of the New York State Unified Court System, Carrasco pled guilty in Manhattan Criminal Court on September 22 to a top charge of aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle in the third degree, a misdemeanor that stipulates that Carrasco drove without a license when he knew or should have known that he didn’t have a license. He is due to pay a $500 fine in December.

Days after Casal was killed, the unlicensed dump truck driver who ran down Upper East Side pedestrian Laurence Renard pled guilty to aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle in the third degree and, like Carrasco, was fined $500.

As a DA candidate, Vance pledged to hold dangerous drivers accountable for their actions. In July, responding to a query regarding the investigation of Casal’s death, a Vance spokesperson told Streetsblog: “When we prosecute a case we look at the elements of the law and the facts of our case to determine whether we can go forward with the case. If we find that the facts of a case fit criminally negligent homicide, we will not hesitate to charge them.”

  • Bolwerk

    Well, I agree the punishment is softball, but it should hardly make a difference whether someone who does something like this is licensed or unlicensed.  I mean, he killed someone.  The fact that he didn’t register with the state before he did it is trivial.

  • The perpetrator’s lack of a valid license speaks to the complete failure of the criminal justice system to hold reckless drivers accountable. You can speed, run someone over, “lose” your driving privileges, back over and kill someone while driving with a suspended license, get fined, get back behind the wheel, etc.

    Brad highlighted the revolving door problem nicely in this post:

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2009/12/03/what-does-it-take-to-keep-a-reckless-new-york-driver-off-the-road/

    “…as long as you stay sober and pay your fines, in New York State you can
    pretty much count not only on avoiding jail time, but retaining your
    driving privileges with minimal interruption no matter how many times
    you are ticketed, even if you take a life — a systemic failure that Mayor Bloomberg and NYPD Commissioner Kelly continue to ignore, though the city death count shows no sign of abating.”

  • Eric McClure

    Care to comment, DA Vance? If this isn’t criminally negligent, what is?

  • Let’s also look at this from another angle: there are a lot of drivers out there who do what is expected of them, no matter how inconvenient, time-consuming, or expensive it is. They pay their insurance and registration fees, they declare their actual residence as their registration address, they drive with caution, they keep their cars in good condition with legal emissions, they don’t break simple traffic rules just to get somewhere 5 minutes earlier or to cut in front of backups, and they don’t park in maddeningly illegal ways. What are all these people, schmucks? What’s the point of following any of the rules if the ones who get away with things pretty much do so without consequence? 

    I believe our justice system has given up on trying to regulate traffic, and I believe most of the rest of us are giving up on trusting drivers to do the right thing in this environment. The public NEVER said this was all okay. It just happened because we were all negligent. Now we have to fix it. It will be politically unpopular (especially to guys like Vacca and his main constituents) but that should be ignored. The “popular” way of using the roads simply doesn’t work. It’s dangerous, it’s tragic, and it’s stupid. And it’s not hard to get most people on board with serious reform when it is pointed out to them that the few drivers who scream the loudest when we try to “calm” them or otherwise ask them for fair concessions tend to be the people who make the lawful drivers feel like a bunch of futile morons.

    I say this as a driver, not a pedestrian or cyclist. (Those groups have even bigger reasons to be angry) Driving in this city is an unhappy undertaking. It doesn’t need to be, but it clearly is. And I think anyone who wants it to stay “just like it is” is selfish and illogical and should be tuned out of the conversation.

  • Anonymous

    Rally for traffic justice at One Police Plaza 8:30am on November 30:
    http://transalt.org/events/calendar/5518
    Also, sblog, can you add it to the sblog calendar?

  • Anonymous

    To be fair, the DA is just one piece of the puzzle. They only prosecute cases that they think they can win. As we saw just a couple of weeks ago, a jury can still rule not guilty even if it looks like a negligent homicide to us: 
    http://www.streetsblog.org/2011/10/28/jury-applies-no-penalty-to-speeding-driver-for-killing-cyclist-jake-mcdonaugh/
    I don’t know if it’s weak laws, or the way judges interpret them when conducting the trial and instructing the jury, or just the sympathy that the jurors have towards drivers and the popular belief in the theory that crashes are “just an accident” (even if the driver is speeding with a suspended license after a long history of moving violations). But if the few actual trials that we see end up that way, I guess that’s “democracy at work”, and the DA’s lack of fervor becomes less surprising.

  • I don’t agree with this win/lose frame @qrt145:disqus . If available evidence suggests that one person’s negligence lead to another person’s death, that case should be examined in court—even if the jury pool is thought to be rotten. This is the only way to know anything.

    Right now we are flying blind, dumping millions into a justice system that doesn’t confront the leading cause of unnatural death in New York. If the police and DAs won’t do their jobs of investigating crimes and trying to convince juries of facts, I’m not sure why we pay them to dabble in traffic law at all. New York streets may as well be officially declared anarchistic.

    And besides, what proportion of cases do the people “win” anyway? Does that mean being a conviction of all charges? The last jury I sat on did not convict the defendant of murder (correctly, I thought, as a mere alternate) and the DA’s office has not subsequently given up on prosecuting that crime.

    Seeing the public process through is a “win” in itself. As it stands, New Yorkers who don’t want to be run over and ignored like a piece of garbage are definitely losing.

  • Cberthet

    This just confirm what we have known all along : Vance was not the best choice for AG.

  • Cberthet

    Very good point Nathan!

    Going through the system is fundamental in educating judges, jury, the press, the lawyers and yes the police who will have to testify , on what is the law. If a jury is involved, it will be left to the public to judge, instead of the police, the DA and the judge, a much better alternative.

    As it stands, when it comes to crimes against vulnerable road users, the police and the DA are obstructing justice with their own biased and preemptive determinations.

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