Hit-and-Run Driver Charged With Reckless Driving for Killing 5-Year-Old

Last night just before 8:30, five-year-old Roshard Charles was crossing Empire Boulevard between Nostrand Avenue and Rogers Avenue with his mother, his baby brother, and a friend. They were just outside his family’s apartment when a double-parked driver threw her car in reverse, hit the gas and killed the boy as he was about to reach the sidewalk. The driver fled the scene, but now faces hit-and-run and reckless driving charges.

Rashard Charles. Photo: DNAinfo
Roshard Charles. Photo: DNAinfo

DNAinfo spoke this afternoon with Roshard’s mother, 27-year-old Rochelle Charles:

“I was with my baby. He was right here with me. She double parked. She wasn’t moving. She was just there. We were already walking, about to go on the sidewalk. And that’s when she started reversing really fast…I said, ‘Stop!’ I banged on [the van]. She reversed back. She heard me. She looked back. She tried to get him out of the wheel. And then she just drove off…How could you leave like that? I kept telling her to stop.”

Witnesses lifted the boy onto the hood of a nearby car and attempted to keep him awake before paramedics arrived, according to the Daily News. Charles was taken to Kings County Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. NYPD says no one else was injured in the crash.

“I love him so much. I took really good care of him,” Rochelle Charles told DNAinfo. “Saturday we went to Applebee’s. It’s just me and him. Last week, we went to the movies.”

The Daily News reported that the child “darted away from his mom” before the driver crushed him, but other media accounts do not include this allegation, and NYPD told Streetsblog this afternoon that this claim was not part of its record of the crash. The Collision Investigation Squad continues to investigate the death.

After striking Charles, driver Elizabeth Mayard, 23, of Brooklyn, fled the scene, running red lights as she drove westbound on Empire. According to the Wall Street Journal, another driver who saw the crash followed her for two blocks before she pulled over and the witness convinced her to go back to the crash scene. Another witness at the scene described Mayard as hysterically crying and apologizing. She now faces charges for leaving the scene of a fatal crash, reckless driving, and three red light violations.

The charges do not include a violation of Hayley and Diego’s Law, the state’s careless driving law for drivers who injure a pedestrian or cyclist. (The law is named after two pre-schoolers who were killed by a van on a Chinatown sidewalk after a driver had left it by the curb, idling and unattended.) NYPD rarely uses this law, claiming that it can only be enforced through a crash investigation or if an officer personally witnesses a violation. Efforts to close this loophole have stalled in the state legislature.

From 1997 to 2007, there were 10 serious pedestrian injuries at the intersection of Empire and Nostrand and five moderate injuries midblock where Charles was killed yesterday. In 2009, DOT said this section of Empire had a “high proportion of mid-block crashes” [PDF].

The street received a redesign focused on pedestrian safety in 2009 when DOT removed one car lane in each direction and added a striped median with concrete islands at intersections. At the request of Community Board 9, the redesign also included bike lanes, where Mayard was double-parked.

The 71st Precinct’s community council’s next meeting is scheduled for this Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at MS 61, located at 400 Empire Boulevard — one block away from the crash site. Contact the precinct at (718) 735-0527 for more information. The area is on the border of two City Council districts, represented by Laurie Cumbo and Mathieu Eugene. Cumbo can be reached at (212) 788-7081, M35@council.nyc.gov or on Twitter and Facebook. Eugene can be reached at (718) 287-8762, mathieu.eugene@council.nyc.gov, or on Twitter and Facebook.

  • “The Daily News reported that the child “darted away from his mom” before the driver crushed him, but other media accounts do not include this allegation, and NYPD told Streetsblog this afternoon that this claim was not part of its record of the crash.”

    This is why I value Streetsblog’s restraint in not rushing to publish stories about these tragedies until more information is available.

    Reporters and editors need to think long and hard about why they include such unsubstantiated garbage in their initial reports. Right now it only serves to exonerate drivers in the eyes of the public, making these deaths seem unavoidable. I mean, sure, this driver fled, but I’m sure many drivers see the event that precipitated that cowardly and criminal act and think, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

    No society on earth can design a street that could prevent kids from darting out into the street. So the more this “information” gets put out there the harder it is to build the political and moral foundation needed to prevent this from happening to another family.

    I know a lot of journalists will say, “Initial reports are always confusing.” So don’t report right away! The Daily News writers ought to consider what they’d do if it was their kid who was the victim of such horrible violence. Would they want unconfirmed rumors or specious “eyewitness accounts” published before an investigation took place?

    Vision Zero will require a lot of things, including a shift in our city’s mainstream media.

  • Eric McClure

    Horrific.

  • Hilda

    My sincere condolences to this family.
    In addition to the change in how the media reports the initial facts, I would also like to see the same seemingly insignificant comments made about the drivers actions as are made about the victims.
    If the family crossed mid-block, why is it not reported that the driver was double parked for a significant amount of time while using a cell phone?
    Also as a question, is this also something that may fall under Elle’s law? Does Elle’s Law get ignored as much as Hayley and Diego’s Law?

  • Hilda

    I should clarify that I am making the assumption that the driver was on her phone. This is something that I see all the time, double parked drivers using their phone, optimistically, to not be driving while using it. The result seems to be to look up quickly and move, without being aware of their surroundings.

  • SteveVaccaro

    As far as I can tell, there is a 2.5 year backlog at the DMV for reviewing cases of reckless driving, so we don’t yet know whether DMV will actually apply the license sanctions called for in Elle’s Law.

  • SteveVaccaro

    Such a tragedy, especially since DoT worked so hard to traffic-calm Empire Boulevard with bike lanes, concrete medians and road diet. Based on the configuartion of the street, it’s a safe bet that Mayard was double parked in the bike lane before she went into reverse without looking or giving a warning. No amount of engineering can eliminate this kind of carelessness–enforcement is the right response.

    It appears that NYPD is pressing the appropriate criminal charges (hit and run and reckless driving). Violation of the Diego/Hayley and Elle’s component of VTL 1146 is usually a traffic violation, which may also apply after investigation. I can’t see any reason to allow Mayard to drive again.

    No solace for the Charles family, but hopefully some justice.

  • Aunt Bike

    There was a piece in this blog last year on the challenges of getting results from reckless driving charges….

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2013/11/19/how-the-city-council-can-impose-tougher-penalties-on-reckless-drivers/

  • nycbikecommuter

    This is so sad. This person should never be able to drive again. Never again. She should also be charged with criminal negligence and spend few years behind bars. We need people to be afraid of the consequences of their actions.

  • Robert Wright

    Doug,

    I’m a daily newspaper reporter. I also found out today that Rashard’s mother is our cleaner’s niece. The family is devastated.

    I regularly have to write stories about things that have just happened, albeit seldom road crashes. I think it’s entirely possible to write stories quickly. Indeed, I think it’s a duty. People ask, “What were those sirens about? What happened in the street earlier?” It’s in some ways as much a dereliction of journalistic duty to do things slowly as to get them wrong. As it happens, I wrote my news organization’s first story about the disappearance of light MH370, a subject that has generated more than its fair share of pointless speculation since.

    The point is not, I think, that there’s anything wrong with writing fast but that reporters need to be more careful and sceptical. I’ve said before that the issue is the paradigm in the minds of reporters and editors as much as anything else. The problem is that the paradigm is that crashes involving children (especially, I suspect, black children in poor neighborhoods) is that it’s a mistake by a poorly-parented child that causes these tragedies. There’s consequently a tendency to seize on any evidence that backs up that paradigm and believe it, whether or not there’s any confirmation.

    If reporters are more careful and skeptical and avoid giving detail until they can be far more clear about the details, quick reporting can be a service to the public. The big problem is that they’re doing it badly, not that they’re doing it quickly.

  • Heart4music

    A mom couldn’t wake her 18 year old son up for a half hour. He finally gets up and is unable to get dressed except shorts, gets in and lays the passenger seat down to go 2 miles. On his way back home he drives up on the sidewalk and hits me. Throat cut open on scene, resuscitated, in a coma over 6 weeks. Now I am permanently disabled and in debt from the medical bills. He had his record wiped clean of the accident. Depends on who you’re related to if you keep your license.

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