If Cars Were Cranes …

Below is a statement from Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, issued last week after James Lomma was cleared of manslaughter for the deaths of two workers in a 2008 crane collapse:

“Although we are disappointed with the Judge’s verdict, each case we have brought in this area has put increased scrutiny on the construction industry as a whole, and has had a cascading effect on safety practices. Construction companies must do everything in their power to protect the safety of workers and the thousands of New Yorkers who live near or walk by a construction site every day. The tragic deaths of two young men in this case showed the serious and fatal consequences that can result when profit is put ahead of safety.”

You don’t see press releases like this pertaining to pedestrian or cyclist fatalities, in part because prosecutors are notoriously timid when it comes to pursuing vehicular crimes.

As of this writing, 66 people are known to have died on city streets and highways in 2012. Of those, 32 were pedestrians and cyclists killed by drivers on surface streets. Citywide, only four drivers are known to have been charged for taking a life, and at least two of those drivers were also charged with DWI. The last few years have seen hit-and-run and unlicensed killers get off with slaps on the wrist, while district attorneys have failed to adhere even to the lenient “rule of two” standard.

The problem is not limited to the city. Between 1994 and 2008, there were just 29 indictments for criminally negligent homicide — the only charge that applies to either a vehicular assault or homicide that does not require the presence of alcohol or drugs — in all of New York State, according to Transportation Alternatives. During that period, about 10,000 people died on state roadways.

Said attorney Steve Vaccaro in our April review of Vance’s record on vehicular crime: “I think prosecutors want to have a very high conviction rate, and that’s important to them. But it’s not so important that they should be afraid of taking cases that push the envelope a little bit.”

Until that happens, it’s not hard to imagine what it might be like when, win or lose, prosecutors have the fortitude to pursue cases of vehicular violence as doggedly as other acts of negligence:

“Although we are disappointed with the Judge’s verdict, each case we have brought in this area has put increased scrutiny on the construction industry dangers of reckless driving as a whole, and has had a cascading effect on safety practices. Construction companies Motorists must do everything in their power to protect the safety of workers the public and the thousands millions of New Yorkers who live near or walk by a construction site walk, bike and drive the streets every day. The tragic deaths of two young men in this case showed the serious and fatal consequences that can result when profit motorist convenience is put ahead of safety.”

  • Nice post, Brad. Agreed.

  • KillMoto

    “…Of those, 32 were pedestrians and cyclists killed by drivers on surface streets.”  I’m sure this also includes human beings killed by cars on the sidewalk, yes? 
    RE: Unlicensed drivers.  It’s time to make motor vehicle ignition systems require a smart-chip equipped license as the ignition key.  That helps thwart the “sure it was my car, but I was not driving” BS.

  • KillMoto

    What the USA has today is a perverse sort of reverse “felony murder rule” (where killing someone while committing a crime automatically makes the killing murder not manslaughter).  What we have instead is “break all the laws you want while driving, and if you kill someone in the process, we won’t prosecute”    

  • LN

    Cars are cranes. Mathieu Lefevre was killed by the driver of a truck carrying a crane. I am sure that the safety record of the crane company with the cranes and the trucks that carry them is similar – and it seems that the punishment for mishandling either is similar too.

  • Anonymous

    Brilliant edit of the DA’s statement. But if I may suggest an additional change, I would have replaced “thousands” with “millions”.

  • Brad Aaron

    @qrt145:disqus Yep.

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