Sidewalks Are No Sanctuary: Driver Jumps Curb, Kills 3 in the Bronx

Nyanna Aquil, left, and Kristian Leka, were two of three people killed in the Bronx by a curb-jumping driver on Halloween, along with Nyanna’s grandfather Louis Perez. Photos via Daily News
Nyanna Aquil, left, and Kristian Leka, were two of three people killed in the Bronx by a curb-jumping driver on Halloween, along with Nyanna’s grandfather Louis Perez. Photos via Daily News

A motorist killed three people Saturday, including a 10-year-old girl, and injured three others when he drove onto a Bronx sidewalk crowded with trick-or-treaters.

Police told the media Howard Unger, 52, of the Bronx, was driving west on Morris Park Avenue in a Dodge sedan at around 5 p.m. when he hit another vehicle from behind multiple times, hit a bus, and drove against oncoming traffic before going over the curb near Bogart Avenue.

Witnesses said the vehicle struck the victims on the sidewalk and went airborne. Photos from the scene show the car atop a fence, several feet off the ground, outside 936 Morris Park Avenue.

Unger killed Nyanna Aquil; her grandfather, 65-year-old Louis Perez; and Kristian Leka, 24, who according to the Times “was holding his younger sister’s hand to keep her safe.” Perez’s 3-year-old granddaughter, Leka’s sister, and Leka’s fiancé were injured.

From the Daily News:

“The guy in front of my feet, his body was torn in half. He was dead already,” said Kristina DeJesus, a hospital administrative assistant.

There was a young girl on the side of the car. She was like, ‘Can somebody help me?’ I was screaming at her, ‘Whatever you do, don’t move!’

“I had no time to cry … to react,” she added. “My body went into help mode.”

Unnamed investigators told the Times and the Post Unger may have had a seizure before the crash. The Daily News reported that Unger “did not have a history of seizures or other health issues,” according to his mother.

“We are looking at every possible aspect,” said Joe McCormack, vehicular crimes chief for District Attorney Robert Johnson.

Image: WCBS
Image: WCBS

Johnson filed manslaughter charges against a green cab driver who allegedly killed two pedestrians while off his epilepsy medication last March. District Attorney Ken Thompson did not charge a motorist who told police he hadn’t taken his anti-seizure medication before killing a cyclist and injuring several other people in Brooklyn last July.

The New York State DMV relies on the honor system to flag license applicants with medical conditions that could affect their ability to drive. People who volunteer such information are required to have a doctor submit a form to the DMV for review.

There is precedent for bringing felony charges against motorists who fail to take medication and kill people as a result. Garbage truck driver Auvryn Scarlett was convicted of murder for fatally striking two tourists in Manhattan after he went off his medication and had a seizure behind the wheel. Prosecutors said Scarlett did not tell his employer or the DMV he had epilepsy. An appeals court reduced the conviction to manslaughter, but affirmed that a conviction on serious felony charges was warranted.

“This is not a freak occurrence,” Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, told the Times. “Even if it proves true that the driver had some sort of medical episode, we have a right to know what happened before.”

Saturday’s crash was at least the fifth time a curb-jumping driver injured or killed children in the Bronx in the last 13 months. New York City motorists have killed at least 12 people on sidewalks and inside buildings in 2015, according to crash data tracked by Streetsblog.

Mayor Bill de Blasio issued a brief statement after the crash. It read in part: “We do not accept tragedies like this as inevitable. This could be any of our families. Each of us must contribute to making this a city where everyone, especially children, can walk our streets safely.”

Update: Mayor de Blasio refused questions from reporters about this crash on Monday afternoon.

  • Guest

    I have a difficult time believing the vehicle was not exceeding the speed limit.

    Let’s see if we got this straight… While traveling UPHILL, the vehicle had a number of collissions – all factors that should have caused it to lose speed. It mounted the curb, which also should have slowed the vehicle. It then struck pedestrians hard enough to cause three deaths. Given rates of survival at different speeds, this many fatalities suggests the vehicle was still traveling much more than 25 mph at the time it struck the victims. Their innocent bodies should have slowed the mass of the car as well, yet it still managed to make it up on top of a wall.

    It just sounds too unlikely the driver wasn’t speeding. Can we get the “not speeding” finding from named analysts who could be held responsible for the accuracy of their work?

  • Father

    Question for Bill de Blasio:

    How were the people who were killed on sidewalks not contributing to Vision Zero? What contribution should Ethan Villavicencio, age 7, have made before he was killed by a driver inside a restaurant? Please tell us what we can be doing differently before someone else is hurt.

  • Jeff

    The whole “Each of us must contribute” thing could also be interpreted as the whole “I drive everywhere, and therefore I assume everyone else does, too” mindset. Not sure if this is better or worse than saying that kids walking on the sidewalk need to “contribute”.

  • BBnet3000

    I tend to think that someone with a seizure disorder should avoid driving and not do so as a profession.

  • nanter

    It’s possible that he wasn’t exceeding the speed limit until his “medical event” caused him to press the accelerator to the floor.

    We can all speculate about any and all of this. That’s why police are supposed to do these things called “investigations” and “due diligence.” I’m not too optimistic though.

  • mushr00m

    It will be ironic that they would charge a person for failing to take their medication, but under normal circumstances they wouldn’t charge a person at all.

  • com63

    If it truly was a medical event where the driver didn’t start speeding until the first collision with the other car, this would be an excellent case for mandating technology that would prevent this kind of disaster. I would think that modern cars are able to detect when a collision has occurred through airbag sensors and other things already built into a car. The onboard computer should limit the speed of a car to 5 or 10mph after a collision so that someone having a seizure would not be able to mash the accelerator and just keep going at a high rate of speed.

  • Restaurant patrons are required to “contribute” by using a drive through. /s

  • Joe R.

    How many more times must this happen before NYC just starts installing sidewalk bollards as a matter of course? Since we seem to be powerless preventing “out-of-control” cars from jumping on the sidewalks, the best course of action is to make sure bolllards stop those cars dead in their tracks.

    Also, this incident sounded really gruesome, like something straight out of a war movie. People on sidewalks shouldn’t have to fear being cut in two.

  • The “each of us contribute” stuff is just nonsense, frankly. Studies on who causes crashes show the vast majority are motorists’ fault. We don’t all contribute. The solution to this is to make sure drivers drive better and to create streets that encourage better driving and mitigate bad driving’s effects.

  • The problem with “everyone must contribute” is this: by diffusing responsibility, it reduces the burden of responsibility on drivers, who are truly responsible for these horrors.

  • Reader

    “Update: Mayor de Blasio refused questions from reporters about this crash on Monday afternoon.”

    They should have asked him about the Mets.

  • Some Asshole

    Or a drive-in. Everyone must be inside a motor vehicle at all times.

  • AnoNYC

    Citywide traffic calming package on all primarily residential streets. Bollards, speed humps, chicanes, cameras, LED lighting, daylighting, narrow entrances from primary thoroughfares.

  • Jeff

    Right, so my theory is that in these people’s minds, we’re all motorists, and therefore we all must contribute.

  • AnoNYC

    Tragic.

    Morris Park Ave is a speedway. Calming it may prevent additional deaths.

    A single lane here may have made the difference.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    speed bumps please

  • Alexander Vucelic

    first eyewitness reports said it appeared to be clear case of road rage

  • c2check

    Why don’t cars have black boxes with good info for events like this?

    Why don’t cars have adjustable speed governors so you can limit your max speed to 25 in city limits?

    Why is deBlasio being such a coward?

  • Kevin Love

    Source?

  • The inevitable result of DOT’s policy of appeasement towards parking-obsessed sociopaths, and NYPD’s refusal to enforce laws meant to protect our city’s most vulnerable street users. Yes, there’s blood on many hands here, and that blood begins in City Hall in the office of our motorist-coddling, zero-vision mayor.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    post

  • Kevin Love

    I presume you mean an earlier version of this article:

    http://nypost.com/2015/10/31/1-dead-after-out-of-control-car-plows-into-trick-or-treaters/

    Do you remember what was originally written?

  • Kevin Love

    NYPD? Perhaps when I start commuting on a unicorn.

  • Brian Howald

    From: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/bronx/dead-5-injurd-bronx-crash-article-1.2419076

    “Witnesses said the Dodge had repeatedly bumped the back of the Toyota, making it appear as if it were intentional.

    ‘It looked like it was road rage,’ said witness Laurie Grey Williams. ‘I couldn’t figure out why he was hitting the back (of the car). He just kept tapping him. He kept coming straight toward this guy.’

    But cops have ruled out that road rage sparked the crash.”

  • The real onus is on the city to create a system – mainly through automated enforcement and road design – that make these events far less likely. “Everyone must contribute” is a joke if the city isn’t building safer streets and the cops aren’t enforcing the law. If those things aren’t in place, it’s the opposite of “everyone must contribute.” It’s “every man, woman, and child for him or herself.” Cops parked on sidewalks, drivers disobeying laws left and right, and the most vulnerable paying the ultimate price… the situation on our streets is anarchy.

  • Joe R.

    Most people here would be in favor of measures like that but suggest these things to a sampling of the motoring American public at your own risk. I recall when they were floating the idea of having black boxes examined routinely after a collision, along with having them keep large amounts of data, not just the last few seconds worth. They were outcries of “you’re taking away my rights!” like you wouldn’t believe. And GPS to govern speed on city streets? I think it’s a good idea (govern maximum acceleration rates also while you’re at it), but it’ll never fly politically.

    We regularly record and examine data for commercial drivers. Why should other drivers be held to a lesser standard?

  • c2check

    It doesn’t even have to be GPS controlled. You should be required to set a speed governor to 25 when you enter into the city—there’d be no excuse to exceed the speed limit.

  • Simon Phearson

    I think you’ve really put your finger on it here.

    There’s a tendency in American thought to evaluate problems whose source is systemic as though they’re individual failures of character. Mass incarceration as a product of individuals having children too young and out of wedlock, for instance, rather than as a product of inequality in education, economic opportunity, and welfare. High unemployment rates as a product of an individual sense of unearned entitlement and parental coddling, rather than as a product of tax and economic policy that removes incentives for job growth. It’s a classic conservative technique to convince a large number of voters that government intervention is not just futile but misdirected; you can’t legislate better parenting, you can only pontificate that everyone should be better parents.

    In the Vision Zero context, it ends up working similarly. BdB says “everyone must contribute,” which seems to atomize a policy that really should be driven by a scientific engineering perspective, by experts who understand how traffic works, into individual decisions about how to behave on the roads. Your choices matter! So every individual is called upon to speed less and drive more carefully – but little is done on a systemic level to force or incentivize them to behave in such a way.

    It’s a classic windshield-perspective kind of thing to say, and it suggests that BdB is so deeply clueless about Vision Zero that it’s hopeless to expect him to make any kind of lasting progress. They’ll just keep citing the same data points until they’re superseded by contrary data, then drop the policy initiative.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    that killer driver was trying to pass ( on right ?) and honking and repeatedly bumped Toyota. it was written with names of at least two eyewitnesses either directly quoted or attributed.

    illuminatjng that post changed story

  • WalkingNPR

    “Corrected” much quicker than Alison Liao’s story….

  • ocschwar

    Here’s a tip from Massachusetts: lining the curbs with trees, rocks, mailboxes and other obstacles is a cheap and low tech way to install governors in the cars driving by.

  • JoshNY

    “Everyone must contribute” is the “all lives matter” of Vision Zero. Depressing to think that this came from a mayor who “supports” VZ.

  • Bernard Finucane

    The sidewalks are too narrow and the lanes are too wide.

    https://www.google.de/maps/@40.8471857,-73.8582793,3a,75y,147.88h,64.53t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sqfplDrQCiXy7b4vWZy5Veg!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

    This is a school crossing. It’s nice that the city paints that on the street, but shouldn’t there be bulb outs, bollards at the edge of the sidewalk and 9 foot lanes at school crossings?

  • Guest

    You could speculate all day about what may have caused the car to exceed the speed limit. Determining if the car was exceeding the legal speed limit does not require speculation.

    What the NYPD said was that there was no evidence of speeding. Without the analysis, and with all the facts that are actually available, that sounds very, very unlikely…

    The problem here is precisely that the NYPD simply chooses to pass off its own grotesque speculations exculpating drivers without bothering with the analysis.

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