As expected, criminal charges against the driver who fatally struck Brooklyn pedestrian Clara Heyworth have been dropped. Unexpected was a critique of the case from the bench, as a judge today lambasted prosecutors for abandoning efforts to bring a suspected DWI killer to justice.
In the early morning hours of July 10, 2011, Heyworth was crossing Vanderbilt Avenue to meet her husband, Jacob Stevens, when she was struck by driver Anthony Webb. She died from head injuries the following day. She was 28.
Webb, 43, was charged with driving while intoxicated, operation of a motor vehicle by an unlicensed driver, reckless driving, reckless endangerment, and assault, among other violations. But the case against Webb fell apart in light of shoddy investigative work by NYPD.
In a Brooklyn courtroom this morning, Webb pleaded guilty to unlicensed driving and driving without an insurance card, after prosecutors with the office of District Attorney Charles Hynes dropped all remaining charges.
The assistant district attorney asked for a 15-day jail sentence, the maximum term for the violations in the plea. Instead, Judge Desmond Green fined Webb $250 and ordered him to complete a drunk driving course. Stevens says Green questioned prosecutors before handing down his sentence.
“He said ‘Why are you dropping these other charges?'” says Stevens. “And the district attorney’s office said, ‘Well, you know the portable breath test it turned out hadn’t been calibrated.’ And the judge said, ‘Well, as you know, we have convicted people in cases where the portable breath test wasn’t admissible. So that’s not a good enough reason. You should be bringing these charges.'”
A lawsuit filed by Stevens against NYPD says the department’s Accident Investigation Squad called off its investigation one hour after the crash, without coming to the scene, because Heyworth was alive immediately after the collision. The suit says investigators ignored precinct officers who attempted to summon AIS because they believed Heyworth “may be likely” to die.
By the time AIS began its investigation several days later, crucial evidence was lost. According to the suit, no witnesses could be located; no pictures were taken of the crash scene; video evidence was erased; information from the vehicle’s data recorder, which would have indicated speed, was overwritten; driver blood evidence was lost; and skid marks were destroyed. The position of the victim was never recorded, making it impossible to reconstruct the crash. Police did not document vehicle damage for weeks, after the car had been taken to a repair shop.
Though the machine used to administer a breath test to Webb was later found to be working properly, the 88th Precinct had not performed a required calibration for four years, rendering results inadmissible in court.
NYPD incompetence notwithstanding, Judge Green admonished prosecutors for diminishing the strength of their own case.
Says Stevens: “The judge said, ‘I can only hear the charge that remains. I did not choose to drop the other charges. The district attorney chose to drop the other charges. I was here ready today to try the criminal charges, and it’s the district attorney’s office that chose to drop them, so that’s the only one that I can sentence on today.'”
“He seemed to be making some kind of a statement for public consumption. But of course the effect is that this guy not only walks, but he does that DMV course and he can drive again.”
Since Webb faced charges related only to driving when he should not have, Stevens was allowed to speak only to those violations in his statement to the court.
“And so I said that Clara was 28 and that we’d been married for less than two years, and that if the defendant had abided by the terms of his license and not gotten behind the wheel that night, then she’d still be alive, and we’d be looking forward to the rest of our marriage.”