A killer charged with the DWI manslaughter death of a six-year-old child walked out of court Tuesday without spending a day in jail.
Prosecutors say Kent Lowrie, 53, was legally drunk when he hit and killed Zhaneya Butcher last summer as the little girl ran toward an ice cream truck on 104th Avenue in Jamaica, Queens. Lowrie pled guilty to manslaughter as part of a deal that resulted in five years’ probation, a $1,000 fine, a six-month license revocation and the mandated use of an ignition interlock device for one year, according to court records. The Daily News reports:
Instead of going to a grand jury, prosecutors opted to offer Lowrie a plea deal. They feared that when a margin of error for the blood-alcohol test was factored in, Lowrie would not have been considered intoxicated and would have faced lesser charges.
There was also no evidence that Lowrie was speeding.
Given that Lowrie faced up to seven years in prison, Zhaneya’s relatives were understandably shocked by the outcome of this case. Implicit in the decision to negotiate such a favorable deal for Lowrie is the fact that, under ordinary circumstances, the driver who strikes a child with deadly force on a neighborhood street is considered blameless by default.
The state legislature has given police and prosecutors new tools to offer a modicum of protection to vulnerable street users like Zhaneya Butcher and, ideally, to deter drivers from acts of deadly recklessness. But as long as those tools go unused, motorists will continue to maim and kill with relative impunity, and victims of traffic violence will be deemed culpable for their own deaths and injuries.
A woman who accompanied Lowrie on Tuesday was quoted as saying, “People should keep their kids in the house and not running between parked cars.” As repugnant a statement as that is, it’s more or less what the criminal justice system is saying, too.