The Riverdale Press revealed last week what should have been a bombshell allegation of the sort that is splashed on front pages across the city. But it wasn’t picked up by other media outlets, nor was it the focus of the Riverdale Press story.
Former NYPD detective Kevin Spellman is on trial for vehicular homicide for allegedly mowing down 70-year-old Bronx pedestrian Drane Nikac while driving drunk in a government vehicle three years ago this month. According to the Riverdale Press, prosecutors from the office of Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson have sought to introduce evidence that the crash that killed Nikac wasn’t the first incident in which Spellman was caught drinking and driving.
The first incident the District Attorney’s Office would want to introduce, according to the transcript, took place on Oct. 14, 2004. Mr. Spellman, who was off duty at the time, was allegedly driving the wrong direction on a one-way street in a police vehicle.
Civilians reported him to police after they said they noticed him staggering into a bodega to buy beer, smelling of alcohol and with bloodshot eyes. Two other police officers had been in the car with Mr. Spellman.
He wasn’t arrested but he pleaded guilty to internal charges, forfeiting 26 vacation days and accepting an eight-day unpaid suspension and 10 months of modified duty.
According to the transcript, the second incident took place on Aug. 2, 1997. It was a sunny, clear summer day and Mr. Spellman allegedly ran a stop sign in Yonkers, striking a family of three. The father asked the police officer at the scene to perform a Breathalyzer test on Mr. Spellman but the cop refused, according to the transcript. The matter was eventually settled in a civil suit, she said.
Mr. Spellman allegedly made a similar admittance on the day of this accident as the one he made in 2009. He said he didn’t see the 1989 Plymouth Sundance he hit.
These allegations, if true, are nothing short of scandalous: An NYPD detective evades arrest after causing a crash, receives a slap on the wrist years later for driving a police vehicle under the influence, and finally kills a bystander, again while driving drunk in a government-issued car. (Prosecutors from Johnson’s office, understandably, could not comment on the ongoing Spellman trial.)
It’s no stretch to say that drunk driving by New York City police is a deadly epidemic. Weeks before Nikac was killed, in September 2009, off-duty cop Andrew Kelly fatally struck Vionique Valnord in Brooklyn. Around the same time, an off-duty homicide detective killed himself when he slammed into a garbage truck on the BQE. In February 2010, three off-duty officers were arrested for driving under the influence over a span of 11 days, one of them having flipped a car on a Midtown sidewalk. The list goes on and on.
As the number of arrests and victims has increased, it’s a problem that has received scant attention from Commissioner Ray Kelly, Mayor Bloomberg, the City Council or, aside from sporadic coverage of crashes and trials, the media. This continues to be the case even when drinking and driving is evidently excused by the department itself, and leads to the death of an innocent civilian.