Manhattan DA Cy Vance Won’t Prosecute Cab Driver Who Killed 9-Year-Old

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance will file no criminal charges against the cab driver who killed 9-year-old Cooper Stock and injured his father in an Upper West Side crosswalk in January.

Cooper Stock. Photo: Barron Lerner via ##http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/24/treat-reckless-driving-like-drunk-driving/##New York Times##
Cooper Stock. Photo: Barron Lerner via ##http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/24/treat-reckless-driving-like-drunk-driving/##New York Times##

Lisa Belkin of Yahoo News reports that prosecutors met Wednesday with Cooper’s parents, Richard Stock and Dana Lerner.

“They told me there is nothing in the law right now that specifies that he can be charged with any crime,” Lerner said, describing the meeting. Under New York law, criminal charges can only be brought if a driver who injures or kills a pedestrian commits two misdemeanors at a time. Because the driver, Koffi Komlani, was charged with “failure to yield” but nothing else, he will face a penalty of up to $300 and three points on his license.

First, the “rule of two” is an arbitrary standard that holds that a New York State motorist who is breaking at least two traffic laws at the time of a crash may be charged with criminal negligence. It has no statutory basis, and as a candidate for DA in 2009, Vance pledged to challenge the precedent in court.

Here is a passage that used to appear on a now-defunct page on Vance’s campaign web site:

There is no reason why two traffic violations are necessary in order to support a conviction of criminally negligent homicide. I view the “Rule of Two” as the result of case law which should be modified to reflect the reality that one vehicular crime is fully capable of killing. Although in recent years this notion has been applied by the courts in a less strict manner — it is indisputable that it does not take two violations to kill someone. Many violations — speeding, running a red light, or failing to stop at a stop sign are more than dangerous enough to take a life.

So why did Vance decline to pursue charges for this vehicular killing? As was the case when Vance failed to prosecute the cab driver who severed the leg of a Midtown tourist, the public is left to guess. “A spokesman for the DA’s office said that the agency does not comment on investigations or charges that are not brought,” Belkin reports.

Instead, Vance’s office referred to testimony it provided to the City Council in February: “It can be difficult for people to understand why a crash that seriously injures or kills someone is not always a crime. The reality is that often these cases do not meet the complicated legal requirements for criminal charges.”

It is difficult to understand why Vance is not prosecuting sober reckless drivers who injure, maim, and kill, especially since he refuses to say.

  • Kevin Love

    How can this not be criminal negligence? A car driver driving right into two people in a crosswalk?

    How can anyone possibly say that there is no reasonable expectation of encountering a pedestrian IN A CROSSWALK.

  • New(Amsterdam)YC

    Please prosecute. “Failure to yield,” here, is an offensive euphemism for vehicular manslaughter at best. This should be a felony.

  • This is profoundly, profoundly depressing.

  • Ian Turner

    Should archive these campaign site pages with webcitation.org for cases like this.

  • Maggie

    Ridiculous. Profoundly unacceptable.

  • Vernon6

    This why New York is not a ‘great walking city’ as it’s purported to be. Yes, the urban form is very conducive to walking. But the fact you essentially have no protection from the law from drivers that will kill you makes it an absolutely deplorable place to be a pedestrian.

  • Komanoff

    How rude and inconsiderate of Brad and Streetsblog to dredge up campaign rhetoric in which Vance promised to insist on a tougher standard for driver behaviors that cause injury or death.

  • Alex

    I broke the cardinal rule and read the comments on that Yahoo article. It gave some very infuriating insight into the mindset that allows this kind of thing to happen without punishment. Among the comments: “He didn’t set out that morning to kill someone.” “It was an accident, not intentional.” “You can’t expect drivers to pay attention to every little thing around them.” And, my favorite, “Roads are for cars, PERIOD!” That fellow went on to argue that walking in NYC is like swimming in a shark tank, implying that cars are but untamed wild animals, and then pondered who could blame drivers for being aggressive when they have to wait so long for lights to change. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.

    A child is dead due to no fault of his own and you have people rushing to the defense of the person that recklessly killed him. Words cannot express how horifying that is.

  • jooltman

    How do we fix this? Yesterday? Oh, right. By electing legislators who actually care about traffic violence justice: http://www.streetspac.org

  • Reader

    I keep wondering how many children have to die before we change this. Ten? 100? 1,000? Or whose child has to die before something is done. Mine? Yours? The son or daughter of someone “important”? It’s all hugely discouraging. Cy Vance can say that he values children all he wants, but his actions tell a different story.

  • Cold Shoaler

    “It can be difficult for people to understand why a crash that seriously injures or kills someone is not always a crime.”

    I think I can grasp that it’s not ALWAYS a crime. The thing I have a really hard time getting my head around is how it seems that it’s almost NEVER a crime in the eyes of the Manhattan DA.

    “The reality is that often these cases do not meet the complicated legal requirements for criminal charges.”

    This driver broke the law and killed a child, how complicated do the criteria for criminal charges need to be?

  • ThereIveSaidIt

    Those comments are a fascinating but depressing window into the scum culture common among the low-IQ set. Taking the side of reckless killer drivers, always blaming pedestrians for their own deaths no matter what the circumstances – these are articles of faith among beef-brained bozos who spend every waking minute trying to prove how masculine, unsentimental and ruggedly practical they are.

  • ThereIveSaidIt

    A huge issue here is the refusal of the authorities to investigate vehicular homicides with the same thoroughness and determination with which they investigate other crimes. In those cases, no stone is left unturned. You have statements taken from multiple witnesses and used as evidence. You have forensics and other physical evidence. If any nearby security camera footage exists, they’ll go out of their way to find it. If it’s a major case involving money or fraud, they’ll painstakingly go through tens of thousands of emails and documents to bring charges. In the case of vehicular homicides, the extent of the investigation seems to be asking the driver what happened and calling it a night. They should be measuring skid marks, doing forensics on the vehicle, taking as many witness statements as they can and calling those people as witnesses in court if necessary, scouring the surrounding area for camera footage etc. But they don’t. It’s no wonder these cases “do not meet the complicated legal requirements for criminal charges.” They’re not making any attempt to meet those legal requirements because they’re not even investigating them. Talk about a vicious circle.

  • the_local_guy

    So let’s get the law changed to one misdemeanor instead of two. It’s an election year. The governor increased the penalty for texting while driving. Let’s do the same here. Does Streetsblog have a plan to sponsor such an effort and lobby Albany?

  • I object to your title. The problem is not Cy Vance. The problem is the law. Your headline should read “Backwards NYS law’s ‘rule of 2’ prevents DA from prosecuting cab driver who killed 9-year old”. Vance is just following the law. Advocate to have the law changed. Stop wasting your time with Vance’s office.

  • I just took a look at those comments myself, and you are 100% right, they are horrifying. However, I think there is a lot of hatred/jealousy of NYC in those comments as well, plus a lot of people speculating because they don’t have the facts and/or know NYC very well. One tourist objected to the fact that in NYC pedestrians often cross against the light. Well, I can’t remember the last time a pedestrian killed someone else by crossing against the light. Dangerous driving is not morally equivalent to dangerous (for yourself only) pedestrian behavior.

  • Ian Turner

    The “Rule of two” is not law (neither statutory law nor judicial law). It’s just an excuse. And there have been plenty of cases which would seem to satisfy the rule of two but still result in no prosecutions.

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2012/02/22/is-there-really-a-rule-of-two/

  • bolwerk

    Yahoo commenters are possibly the most pig ignorant people on the Internet. Anyone dumber just can’t read or write coherently enough to diarrhea out an opinion, and needs Rush or Hannity to directly spoonfeed what to think using an auditory medium.

    Remember Eternal September? Well, AOL is pretty much dead now. The stupids had to go somewhere.

  • So long as Vance’s office treats the “rule of two” as real (case law, according to quote above), it is real. See also http://freakonomics.com/2014/05/01/the-perfect-crime-a-new-freakonomics-radio-podcast/ And Vance is not the first on this point. Change the law directly to overrule the rule of two, and you will get different behavior from Vance.

  • bolwerk

    It seems to be a guideline he follows, which of course is a powerful thing.

    But politicians hate telling prosecutors what to do. It’s important they have as much power and latitude as possible to maximize their ability to abuse and harass the citizenry. Telling them what to do sets a very dangerous precedent that might give (rare) small-D democrats ideas!

  • Brad Aaron

    It’s not a law. It’s precedent. And the way to change precedent is to bring new cases, which is completely up to the DA. It’s right there in Vance’s own words.

    But thanks for suggesting we advocate for changes in state law. Never thought of that.

  • Ian Turner

    Again, the DA’s behavior in cases where the rule of two would seem to be satisfied suggests that it’s just an excuse to be trotted out. Otherwise we’d see prosecutions in cases where there were two violations.

  • Brad Aaron

    This too. Vance and other DAs cite the rule of two as a reason to not prosecute, but when two or more violations occur you don’t hear anything about it, and they still don’t prosecute.

  • the_local_guy

    Can Streetsblog take the lead on this? Coordinate with Vision Zero and start a social media campaign to petition Albany to strengthen the law? Increase the penalty for failure to yeild to pedestrians in a crosswalk? Change.org has had a lot of success stories with petitions as part of a coordinated campaign.

  • KillMoto

    Precedent will change the day a DA’s 9 year old child is killed by a driver.

  • KillMoto

    Granted, it would be far easier if there was a law on the books: “Operating a motor vehicle, death resulting”.
    Doesn’t need to be a felony. Just get a criminal record going, and a reason to revoke a license. Something. Anything.

  • KillMoto

    It’s hard to require psych evals as a prerequisite to gun ownership on 2nd amendment grounds. Yet a car has greater killing power. Why can’t we restrict car ownership [slash usage] on a person’s mental instability?

  • KillMoto

    Killer Driver: “I didn’t see the human beings I ran over”
    DMV: “You are legally blind. Surrender your license forthwith, permanently. Here’s a discount coupon for a bus pass. Have a nice day!”

  • Kevin Love

    Meanwhile, in the rest of the world…

    Looks like the USA is the only place where criminal negligence by car drivers is not prosecuted. Here’s an example from The Netherlands:

    http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2011/02/when-cyclists-matter-car-crash-and.html

    And from just across the New York/Ontario border, we have a slightly different attitude on the part of criminal prosecutors. Here’s an example where a car driver hit a pedestrian in an unmarked crosswalk. OK, that part is depressingly familiar.

    But then at the car driver’s trial, Crown Attorney Lidia Narozniak argued for conviction using words that we have yet to hear proceed from the mouth of Cy Vance.

    “It’s an area where pedestrians can be expected,” Narozniak said. “The claim, ‘I didn’t see her’ is proof of a lack of due care and attention and reason for conviction.”

    Why isn’t Cy Vance saying the same things?

    See:

    http://www.thespec.com/news-story/4412657-driver-found-not-guilty-in-death-of-senior-crossing-dundas-road/

  • qrt145

    Don’t give them ideas! They’ll say that since a car can be used as a weapon, it is covered by the second amendment so all regulation of cars is unconstitutional!

  • StepUpAndSaySomething

    If you’ve ever pissed off a cop, you know there is always at least 3 or 4 things they can dream up to lock you up for the night. The legal system is elastic and grey and subjective, which is why we have so many people employed by it, like Cy.

    DA’s will often take cases even if they don’t have 100% chance of winning. Sometimes the decision is even influenced by political pressure, by the population or by powerful people. I think there really needs to be some question of why Cy seems so opposed to cases like these, where you can change president and have a good chance of a jury supporting you. It’s hard to look at this kid who was needlessly killed and assign no blame to the scofflaw driver.

    Are DA’s allowed to take campaign contributions when they’re running?

  • bolwerk

    It’s not like the Second Amendment says what gun nuts thinks it says. SCOTUS happens to be occupied by RWAs (conveniently after they selected a president who would appoint RWAs) who don’t really care what the constitution says.

    Even just showing people results of some psych evaluations might help. An Australian province (state? whatever the call them…) has drivers take the Sensation Seeking Scale evaluation. It’s a simple 10- or 20-question questionnaire evaluating people’s propensity to for, well, seeking sensation. Bad drivers tend to score high on it, supposedly.

  • Joe R.

    I think there really needs to be some question of why Cy seems so opposed to cases like these, where you can change president and have a good chance of a jury supporting you.

    Why is obvious. DAs and anyone else in the legal system figure there is some chance that they will eventually have to face a jury in cases like this if the legal system was in the habit of regularly prosecuting drivers who kill/seriously injure. Most of these people drive. It’s probably a source of comfort to them that if they make a “mistake”, they won’t go to jail for it. And then the “accidents happen” attitude is also partly to blame. As a nation, we just accept that over 35,000 people will die annually as a result of automobiles, as if it were an inevitable act of deities, or just the cost of doing business.

    DAs shouldn’t be elected (or appointed for that matter). Both things make them susceptible to political influence. Rather, we should use should some type of merit-based evaluation deciding who gets to be a DA. It might include the number of cases they tried, win percentage, law school grades, etc.

  • Aunt Bike

    Every intersection where I observe lots of pedestrians crossing against the light I also observe a high number of turning drivers who do not yield to the pedestrians who have the walk signal.

    Indeed, more NYC pedestrians are hit by cars in crosswalks than outside of crosswalks. There’s a reason for illegal crossing, it’s because doing so isn’t just seen as safer, it actually is safer.

    Make the crosswalks safe and then we can insist on pedestrians using them.

  • WoodyinNYC

    It would be much easier to agitate for changes in the law after several outrageous cases of drivers causing deaths were prosecuted, and lost because a judge declared the “rule of two” decided the case.

    But Cy Vance isn’t helping to build public outrage with by taking forward and highly publicizing any such cases.

    The solution is to change the law. The problem is dead bodies in the streets. Cy Vance is not part of the solution. He is part of the problem.

  • Andrew

    Killer Driver: “I didn’t see the human beings I ran over” DMV: “You are legally blind. Surrender your license forthwith, permanently. Here’s a discount coupon for a bus pass. Have a nice day!”

    Bad idea – now you’ve encouraged people to kill pedestrians in order to qualify for a discount on transit service.

  • The obscene attitude that you see in those comments is not limited to any one sector of society. What you have there is an accurate reflection of mainstream America; the sad fact is that that’s the majority.

    Every action that we as bicyclists and pedestrians take (be it acts of riding or walking, or be it political acts or acts of advocacy) should be taken with this fact in firmly in mind. Despite the installation of any snazzy new bike lane or pedestrian plaza, we are still the “other” in this society; and the ugly mob surrounds us. We need to understand this, and never forget it.

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In separate stories published yesterday, family members of Marilyn Dershowitz and Cooper Stock, both lost to traffic violence, criticized Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance for his reluctance to file serious charges against motorists who kill people. Vance declined to apply criminal charges against Koffi Komlani, the cab driver who struck 9-year-old Cooper and his father as the two walked hand […]