Why the Brooklyn Crash That Killed a Family of Three Will Happen Again

Julio Acevedo, accused of the high-speed hit-and-run crash that killed Nachman and Raizel Glauber and their unborn child, was convicted in the court of opinion well before he was charged with manslaughter. But the failure of New York’s traffic justice system to keep Acevedo off the roads also allowed this tragedy to happen.

The crash that killed the Glauber family was no accident. Photo: Daily News

The Daily News has reported that Acevedo’s license should have been suspended in February when he went to court on a drunk driving charge — he was reportedly arrested after chasing a livery cab. But the judge, who normally doesn’t preside over such proceedings, misinterpreted the law. He also refused the prosecutor’s request to set bail.

Justice Michael Gary said that if he was wrong to let Acevedo retain his license, the judge at Acevedo’s next hearing, set for April 10, could correct him. Two weeks later, the Glaubers were dead.

Losing one’s drivers license is no easy task in New York State. As we’ve reported, as long as a motorist stays sober and pay his fines, he can expect to retain his driving privileges with little interruption, even if he causes a fatality.

Gary acknowledged his mistake. But the fact that he was unwilling to temporarily revoke the license of someone accused of a drunken car chase speaks to a system that holds the ability to drive as sacrosanct. If not for Acevedo’s criminal record, even if his license had been suspended at the time of the crash that killed the Glaubers, it’s doubtful the charges against him would be as severe.

Acevedo’s attorney claims prosecutors don’t have the evidence to convict her client of manslaughter. It’s her job to say that, but given the state of traffic justice in New York, she may be right.

Every case is different, of course, but recent decisions by the state’s highest court have in effect put a straightjacket on prosecutors who pursue serious charges against motorists who injure and kill. In 2004, Michael Edward Prindle led police on a high-speed chase through Rochester after he and another man were caught trying to steal two snow plows, according to court documents [PDF]. Prindle subsequently rammed another vehicle, killing a passenger. Prindle was convicted of murder, but in 2011 the Court of Appeals overturned the verdict.

Nassau County prosecutor Maureen McCormick cited another precedent-setting decision in a 2009 Streetsblog interview:

As recently as May 2008, New York’s highest court held that a 17-year-old driver who violated his junior license by driving with four unrelated passengers, without seatbelts, and who also was speeding at 70-72 mph through a curve with a posted caution speed of 40 mph, and who lost control sending the car over an embankment and killing three of his passengers, could not be held criminally liable (People v. Cabrera, 10 NY3d 370 [2008]). This decision alone has resulted in numerous defense motions to have cases dismissed claiming that “speed alone” or any traffic infraction “alone” is not sufficient to sustain criminal negligence. Our position is that this is nonsense.

Even seemingly iron-clad DWI fatality cases are no slam dunk. Last summer, a lower court judge in Long Island acquitted a drunk driver of manslaughter on the grounds that the pedestrian he killed was also intoxicated and was attempting to cross against the light. The victim, said Judge Jerald Carter, “did not obey the traffic laws of the state of New York.”

While some prosecutors have criticized the courts for undermining their efforts, the state’s district attorneys have yet to make a concerted, high-profile public campaign to get Albany to change state vehicular laws.

On top of stricter traffic enforcement and more thorough crash investigations, these laws need to be reformed to keep dangerous drivers off the streets. As long as the courts can continue to treat driving as a right, not a privilege, the next mass road death, though entirely preventable, is guaranteed.

  • Matthias

    Breaking the law is not sufficient to sustain criminal negligence but it’s a perfectly reasonable excuse to kill someone. Watch out, people!

  • The typical car stereo these days has more computing power than what was used to put a man on the moon. It’s high time we used technology to help enforce driving regulations. If licenses has an embedded smart chip and cars had chip readers, you would never have to say this:
    “… If not for Acevedo’s criminal record, even if his license had been suspended at the time of the crash that killed the Glaubers…”
    because a borrowed or stolen car would not operate without a valid license inserted.

    Now would we have a story like this:
    “…New York’s highest court held that a 17-year-old driver who violated his junior license by driving with four unrelated passengers, without seatbelts, and who also was speeding at 70-72 mph …”
    because the car would know a minor was driving, and would maybe be programmed to govern top speed, disallow late-night driving according to curfew schedules, etc.

    Instead of so much high tech leading only to distracted driving, why won’t we as a society use technology to reduce roadway killing?

  • Joe R.

    My question here is will Acevedo be allowed to drive again after this? There’s no sense crying over spilled milk as far the chain of events go that allowed him to drive up until the point where he killed three people. The larger issue is after having demonstrated several times to anyone with half a brain that he is totally incapable of safely operating a motor vehicle, will he ever be allowed to drive again? If our society is sane, the answer to that question would be no. Anyone who kills or seriously injures another human being through driver negligence, recklessness, or incompetence should lose their driving privileges permanently. That also includes cases where you knowingly take the wheel if you have conditions which can cause seizures or blackouts.

  • Excellent post and really good summary, Brad.

  • Jennifer

    This is highly tragic. Such people should be punished in the best possible way. In fact, the family of the couple should file a road accident claim to get the compensation. Although, money is not enough for the actual loss but it’s their right and they should go for it.

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