Curb-Jumping Drivers Kill Women in Manhattan and Brooklyn; No Charges

Luck, not law enforcement, is practically all that protects NYC pedestrians from reckless drivers. Photo: Post

Two pedestrians have been killed by curb-jumping drivers since Friday in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

On Friday evening at approximately 5:40, Martha Atwater was struck by the driver of a Honda truck after she stepped out of Bagel Cafe at the corner of Clinton Street and Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn Heights. The unidentified motorist was traveling north on Clinton Street when he “lost control” of the vehicle, mounted the sidewalk, and pinned Atwater against the building, according to reports. From the Post:

“She just came in to buy cookies. She looked happy, she was smiling,” said the cafe manager, Alauddin Shipun.

“She walked out. I heard a big bang and she was gone. Someone was trying to lift her head up and asking her, ‘Are you OK? Are you OK?’”

The 53-year-old driver may have lost consciousness because of diabetes, a police source said.

He remained at the scene and has not been charged.

An ABC report says Atwater was conscious while pinned underneath the vehicle, and that a UPS man called her family from her cell phone. She was pronounced dead at Long Island College Hospital.

Atwater, 48, was an Emmy-winning writer and producer of children’s television shows. She was married and had two young daughters. “The problem I have now is that I have two children,” said her husband, Tom Wallack. “One is 12 and the other is 16. They need support.”

Sunday morning at around 1:50 a collision between a cab driver and another motorist sent the cab onto the curb on Third Avenue at E. 27th Street in Kips Bay, fatally striking a woman as she stood on the sidewalk. From the Post:

A 2010 Honda four-door pulled out of a parking lot and struck the rear of the taxi, sending it careening onto the sidewalk, cops said.

The cab slammed into the victim, who suffered severe leg trauma and massive bleeding, officials said.

The woman was taken to Bellevue, where she was pronounced dead.

The News reported that the victim may have been in her 60s, but her name had not been released by police as of this afternoon. According to an NYPD spokesperson, investigations into both crashes are ongoing. There is simply no way a crash like this happens without one or both drivers behaving recklessly, yet if past patterns hold no one will be charged for taking this woman’s life.

We have a query in with Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes’s office regarding the death of Martha Atwater. The office of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, who during his 2009 campaign pledged to crack down on careless driving, does not comment on vehicular crimes. The curb-jumping driver who seriously injured 90-year-old Dr. Mansoor Day outside Saks Fifth Avenue earlier this month was not charged for the crash, according to online court records.

The latest known Manhattan pedestrian fatality occurred in the 13th Precinct, in the City Council district represented by Rosie Mendez.

Martha Atwater was killed in the 84th Precinct and in Steve Levin’s council district.

It has been a year since the City Council held a hearing on motorist killings of pedestrians and cyclists. In 2012, 15,465 city pedestrians and cyclists were injured in city traffic, and 155 were killed, according to NYPD. About 1 percent of those crashes were investigated by police.

  • Guest

    So how are so many vehicles prone to “losing control?”  Do they have a mind of their own, like a horse?  Or is there a serious defect in the design that should provoke a multitude of lawsuit from either the drivers or the killed?
    If the cause is not the vehicle, then the cause is NEGLIGENCE.  They “lost control” because they were fiddling with the radio or talking on the phone or doing something other than watching in front of them. 

  • Albert

    To add to Guest’s list of driver-negligent ways to lose control of a moving motor vehicle:

    Driving while knowing that one has a condition that might cause one to lose control of a vehicle or, at the very least, driving without monitoring medication adequately—say, epilepsy, narcolepsy, intoxication, non-specific age-related conditions or, in this case, purportedly, diabetes.

  • Glenn

    Exactly – the police need a very clear checklist beyond alcohol. Instead of just commenting that “no criminality is suspected”, can we go the opposite direction and specifically rule out potential causes? Was the driver speeding – Y/N. Was the driver on the phone/texting? Y/N. Does the person take any medications or suffer from a medical condition that would prevent them from operating heavy machinery (aka an automobile)? Y/N. etc. The NYPD needs a clear list of questions to affirmatively rule out, that can be externally verifible afterward by an auditor. Inattentive driving may be hard to prove, but in a situation where a pedestrian is killed on a sidewalk, the burden of proof should be more on the driver to prove to the police they were not at fault, not the other way around.

  • Daniel Winks

     We really need sane driving laws.  If you are driving and kill or injure someone, you are guilty until proven innocent.  It’s really that simple.  Cars don’t kill people on their own.  The moment one turns a key and starts a car, they should be held responsible for any injury or death caused by that car until it’s shut off.  If everyone is immediately held responsible for manslaughter, murder, felony assault with a deadly weapon, attempted manslaughter, etc every last time one kills or maims with a motor vehicle, people will start driving more responsibly.

  • moocow

    ” About 1 percent of those crashes were investigated by police.”

    That’s absolutely pathetic.

    I thoroughly believe that what Daniel said is the only way this mess on the streets will change.

  • moocow

    ” About 1 percent of those crashes were investigated by police.”

    That’s absolutely pathetic.

    I thoroughly believe that what Daniel said is the only way this mess on the streets will change.

  • Glenn, excellent point.  The police  should ask the driver for permission to review their cell phone  right on the spot, and quiz them about the activity logged there, compared to the time of the collision.  There would be a Fourth Amendment right to refuse, but a percentage of drivers would allow it. This is hardly as objectionable as most of what goes on under the Stop/Frisk program, where cops routinely demand that kids turn out their pockets based on a supposed “furtive gesture.” 

    Ray Kelly: How can it be that a pedestrian’s “furtive gesture” warrants an on-the-spot investigation of possible criminality 1,000 times a day, but hopping the curb in an SUV and killing someone routinely results in “no criminality suspected”?

  • Anonymous

    “Guilty until proven innocent”, at least if taken literally, won’t work for criminal cases. You know, the constitution and all that. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the police and DAs can’t work from a hypothesis of criminality until they figure out what’s going on and decide whether to press charges.

    As far as licensing goes, I imagine it would legal to place the licenses of all drivers involved in crashes under administrative suspension until proven innocent. And I think that’s exactly what should be done.

  • Joe DeBliusiquinn

    Hell, people. 

    What are we going to do to make the local press, the NYPD, the DA’s or a New York City mayor care about this? They could just care less. 

    Who has a plan to make them care?

  • That is absolutely tragic.  This happens a lot to people at night, when the driver falls asleep, but 5:30 in the evening is a bit early for that.  My thoughts go out to her family.

  • KillMoto

    This is a federal civil rights case is it not? 
    1) One class of persons (people outside cars) are being harmed by another class of persons (people in cars).  
    2) Motorists are the top killer of people under age 40.  This is a fact, and has been so for 60 years.  This is published information.  It’s reasonable that people know, or should know this fact. 3) Take 1 & 2, and you get premeditation.  When people drive, they know they do so at the risk to a whole class of people.  Yet they do so anyway.When death results from that joy ride, somebody’s civil rights – the most fundamental and sacred, the right to life – is irrevocably denied. What makes this a federal case is the wildly divergent way in which this mechanized depravation of life is handles in state courts.  NYC:  No criminality for the victim.  No criminality for the killer.

    Georgia:  Slap-on-the-wrist for the drunk, drugged driver.  Vehicular homicide conviction for the mother of the victim (Raquel Nelson) who was not in or near a car at the time her son was killed. With such wildly divergent ways of treating people who are killed or who watch their children get killed while walking – this is clearly something that needs to be federalized. 

  • Anonymous

    It’s not fair to lay all the blame on the police.
    The police don’t investigate most car “accidents” for criminality because the DAs usually won’t file charges.
    And the DAs won’t file charges on most of these cases because they have no chance of getting a conviction in court.
    And that is all because there is a very high legal standard in order to prove criminality in automobile related incidents.

    Most regular readers of streetsblog, myself included, think that the act of driving a car on public roads entails assuming responsibility for any damage, injury, or death that you may cause as a result.  But very few other people believe that, and our laws are written almost to the opposite effect.

    At the very least, you would typically have to show that the driver knowingly behaved in a way that was very likely to put others at risk, and then actually hurt or killed someone as a result, in order to bring criminal charges.  Even then, unless the driver falls into a special category like being drunk, it is not easy to show in a legal sense that the activity was criminal.

    Our laws are predisposed to classify bad things that happen on the road as “accidents”. 

    Now it certainly wouldn’t hurt for the police to actually enforce traffic laws, like speeding and running red lights, or to focus some resources on checkpoints for drivers instead of frisking kids on the street.  Those would be good preventative measures.

  • > Our laws are predisposed to classify bad things that happen on the road as “accidents”.

    I’ve heard it before @J_12:disqus and I’ve looked it up before, and I just don’t see that in the law. I see this: “A person is guilty of criminally negligent homicide when, with criminal negligence, he causes the death of another person.”

    Then, elsewhere, “A person acts with criminal negligence with respect to a result or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense when he fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that such result will occur or that such circumstance exists. The risk must be of such nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.”

    I’ve found nothing that should interfere with the prosecution of motorists running over people on the sidewalk. What have I missed?

    You can say that juries are unwilling to convict drivers for negligent behavior, and you could be right, but that’s different from the law being wrong. From what I can tell the law is fine — it is our police and district attorneys who renege their duty to uphold it.

    And as for losing cases, I don’t know what that should have to do with it. There can be no question that investigating and prosecuting a killing is “worth it” to the public, even when a guilty verdict is not found. We need to observe that when one of us is killed, justice is served by a formal determination of guilt. That’s just basic.

  • Daniel Winks

    @qrt145:disqus Guilty until proven innocent would work just fine.  Take DUI for instance.  At least in my state, you are presumed over the limit if you refuse a breathalyzer.  Seeing as a “guilty until proven innocent” stance on motor vehicle violence IS how things are done in more sane countries (it’s the standard in a lot of Nordic countries), there’s no reason it cannot be done here.

    It’s really simple.  If one turns the key in a car and drives it on a public street then that action signifies an agreement by the operator that any death or injury caused by their motor vehicle is automatically their fault.  Prosecution would need only to prove who was in control (or at least in the driver’s seat) when the crash occurred. 

    Simply being in the driver’s seat would be enough for conviction, as it’s no different than police finding arresting someone with a bloody baseball bat in their hands, hands covered in blood and a dead/injured person nearby with baseball bat inflicted injuries.  It would then be up to the defense to prove that the dead/injured person(s) were at fault.  If it cannot be proven that the dead/injured are at fault, a summary judgement would be made against the driver and they’d be off to jail.  A few examples of the driver not being at fault would be someone on a bike running a red light, a pedestrian stepping out into the road mid-block (outside of crosswalks) between a few parked cars which obstructed the view of the pedestrian, etc.

    It’s really simple to avoid ALL risk of killing or maiming someone with a car: don’t drive.  No one is being forced to drive.  There’s walking, bicycling, and mass transit.  If one chooses to drive, then they should ALWAYS be held accountable for that choice.  If one is driving in dense city streets, then perhaps they’ll need to go much, much slower than the usual, recklessly high, speed limits to avoid the risk of injuring or killing someone.  If that means driving at 12mph or less on city streets, then that’s what people will need to do. There’s no place for people to be doing 40+ mph on city streets.  Driving is not a right, and driving fast is absolutely not a right.

  • Anonymous

    @google-7c450ca704a2c467898c249b613ca8d7:disqus : If you refuse a breathalyzer, your license may be suspended, but that’s NOT the same as a criminal conviction for DUI. For the latter, you either need to be found guilty by a jury, or you need to plead guilty. In criminal matters, you are still innocent until proven guilty, and that’s not going to change without a constitutional amendment.

  • Anonymous

    Nathan – establishing criminal negligence requires, first, that there was a condition which posed substantial risk, and second, that the defendant was, or should have been, aware of it.  The fact that someone’s actions resulted in injury or death is not sufficient to show that he was negligent.  There’s plenty of case law specifically related to vehicular charges which has established the types of things that usually have to be proven in order to bring vehicular homicide or assault charges under negligence.  They’re not as easy as you might think, or as many of us would like them to be.

    Daniel Winks – as much as i may agree with you that driving a car on public streets is by definition an aggressive act, I think it’s short sighted and dangerous to cede basic civil liberties, like the presumption of innocence, in order to combat a specific activity.  Imagine if riding a bicycle was a seditious act, and the offender would be presumed guilty.

    Even in an example like the “bloody baseball bat”, it is still up to the people to prove guilt, the defendant retains the presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.

    While driving may not be a right in a protected sense, the reality of our land use and transportation infrastructure in most of the country means that depriving someone of the right to drive constructively deprives them of the capability to carry out many of the necessary functions of life.  It easy to forget this in NYC, but life without a car is very nearly impossible for many people.  Our laws and attitudes towards driving reflect this situation.

  • “The fact that someone’s actions resulted in injury or death is not sufficient to show that he was negligent.”

    Never suggested it was, @J_12:disqus . It’s the fact that these motorists have killed on the sidewalk that suggests the state has a better chance of establishing negligence, though not on that fact alone.

    “There’s plenty of case law specifically related to vehicular charges which has established the types of things that usually have to be proven in order to bring vehicular homicide or assault charges under negligence.”

    Let me remind you that you originally claimed this: “Our laws are predisposed to classify bad things that happen on the road as “accidents”.” The difference is important.

    Motorist-biased “case law” (legal precedent) is not the same as our laws being predisposed. As I said, I don’t see that the problem is in our legal code and no one  seems to be able to show otherwise.

    As I see it the problem lies with the people and system charged upholding our laws, most critically with the police and DAs because if they are not even bringing cases to the courts there is no opportunity to repair your bad “case law”. The public is never presented with verifiable facts of the case. If we were, in every single killing, there would be more pressure where it is need to addresses the systematic failure.

    If we focus instead on legislation and give the cops and DAs a pass, as you seem inclined to do, we waste time passing more laws that the same people will neglect to enforce. This wasn’t hard to foresee, but now it’s more a question of paying attention. We’ve already watched an entire cycle of this story unfold here on Streetsblog.

  • Anonymous

    If I were walking north on Clinton Street with a legally registered gun somewhere on my person and it just so happened that I “lost control” of the gun and that momentarily loss of control of the gun caused someone to die I’m pretty sure I would face criminal charges.  Yet if I momentarily “lose control” while driving a vehicle I can walk away with nothing more than a guilty conscience.

  • Anonymous

    There are too many people afflicted with diabetes or having a general issue with obesity.

    This is directly related to the food industry changing the choice of sweetener from sugar (cane sugar is metabolized best) to using high fructose corn syrup (which turns directly to FAT).

    Here’s a link to an initiative in California, which, as in NYC, is missing the point entirely:

    http://personalliberty.com/2013/04/29/california-lawmakers-pushing-for-statewide-tax-on-sugary-drinks/

    The most unlikely people are succumbing to diabetes, so unless we get serious about this, we’re going to fall victim to further occurrences.

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