Many Questions Remain Unanswered in Aftermath of Chinatown Deaths

alg_children.jpgDiego Martinez (l) and Hayley Ng. Photos via New York Daily News

Friends and relatives of the two children killed in Chinatown last week are grappling with what happened and why, as the parents of Diego Martinez and Hayley Ng demand that the driver whose carelessness led to their childrens’ deaths face consequences for his actions.

Over the weekend, companions of the fallen preschoolers contributed to a makeshift memorial on East Broadway between Market and Catherine Streets. Said the mother of a girl who considered Hayley her best friend: "We’re trying to sort it out. We’re trying to understand why it happened."

There is no single answer, as last Thursday’s catastrophe has revived fundamental questions of the responsibilities of drivers, traffic engineers, law enforcement personnel and legislators to keep people safe on city streets.

Meanwhile, reports the Daily News, two anguished mothers have questions of their own.

In a tearful reunion Saturday, Wana Wu and May Ng met for the first time since losing their children: Diego, 3, and Hayley, 4.

"Our children were killed and the driver walks away without even a ticket," said Ng, inside her sister’s Manhattan apartment. "How can this be? How can this be allowed?"

Sadly, Wu and Ng are not likely to be satisfied in their quest for justice. As Maureen McCormick, a Brooklyn assistant district attorney known for seeking tough penalties for drivers who kill, told Transportation Alternatives in a revealing 2004 interview, even aggressive prosecutors are often stymied by lax state laws and autocentric judges and juries. Said McCormick:

Because of the way laws are written and interpreted, and because of societal attitudes, it is easier to convict deadly drivers who are drunk or drugged. The average New Yorker has a hard time identifying with a guy who smokes crack or shoots up before getting behind the wheel. But jurors may identify with speeders or red light runners who kill someone.

The average New Yorker used to identify with drunk drivers, too, until a sweeping public awareness campaign made it socially unacceptable — except in Manhattan, where, thanks to DA Robert Morgenthau’s office, killer drivers under the influence still stand a good chance of catching a break.

  • “jurors may identify with speeders or red light runners who kill someone.”

    It’s why the city should make it PHYSICALLY more difficult to speed and run red lights.

    Once aggressive driving has been simply impossible in more and more areas for a generation or two, people will start to look at them as just as wrong as drunk driving. Which of course they @#$% ARE.

  • t

    Any attorneys out there care to weigh in on the chance of a civil case being pursued against the driver? What could the parents expect to accomplish if they chose such a route?

  • This must be infuriating for the parents. Every time I read about those two kids I feel for them.

    FYI : If the van was double parked on East Broadway, he was also parked in the bike lane when it happened. Could they at least start by ticketing him for that? Anything at this point would be better.

  • Car Free Nation

    I don’t understand why the police don’t ticket for traffic infractions if there’s a crash. There was that guy who ran his truck through a restaurant window, and didn’t receive a ticket. Apparently the damage to the car and the anguish are enough of a punishment.

    Or when the mail truck ran down the kid in Brooklyn. Isn’t there at least a “failure to yield to child riding bike in bike lane” $50 fine on the books?

  • Yes, that’s completely reasonable and really the minimum we should expect from the NYPD.

  • One possibility is that the police are afraid that the possibility of any penalty for anything other than obvious malice or drunkenness would significantly increase the number of hit-and-runs. There are so many hit-and-runs anyway, I’m not convinced it makes a difference.

  • How much carnage before we realize that the private auto is not a good idea…. and never was?

  • Pursuant

    This is a tragedy for the driver as well as the parents. I fail to see eye to eye with anyone who proposes he is guilty of some excessively reckless behavior. What happened was an unfortunate accident.

    To prosecute a minor traffic infraction when weighed against having to live with the consequences of what happened seems a pointless mockery. It neither brings solace to those who have lost nor acknowledges the sincerity of what I assume any sentient person would feel having caused that loss.

  • > How much carnage before we realize that the private auto is not a good idea…

    Are you trolling? Baby/bathwater.

  • That’s no fucking baby!

  • Doug

    Amazingly, if he had left his car in a completely safe, legal parking spot, but overstayed the meter limit by a few minutes, he’d receive a ticket and be fined. If he had parked too long in a loading zone, at no risk to anything but speedy commerce, he might have been towed. If he had parked a few inches too close to a fire hydrant, he’d also receive a ticket and pay through the nose. How, then, does it make sense that after leaving his empty car running and in gear — never mind the horrible tragedy that occurred as a result — this guy receives absolutely no citation or ticket of any kind? What’s wrong with this picture?

  • Antonio

    How about acts of civil disobedience to protest auto-centricity?

    An even better analogy: the way people excuse the violence of the private automobile today is comparable to the way people excused the violence of white supremacy in this country up until (with a few notable exceptions) around 40 years ago.

  • Kaja

    > the violence of the private automobile is comparable to white supremacy

    Even if you believe such insane things, you shouldn’t say them, because you make the rest of us look cuckoo by association.

    The private automobile isn’t like lynching black people. Rather, try: “We’re too reliant on the private car. It should be part of your life, at best, and not the sole method by which you’re able to live your life.”

    Doesn’t that sound a lot more palatable? A lot more /sane/?

  • J. Mork


    Reckless might not be the right word here. But the evidence leads rather strongly to the conclusion that he was negligent in his duty to operate dangerous machinery in a manner which would avoid the deaths of innocents. I’m not a lawyer or a judge, but it appears eminently provable that this negligence was criminal.

  • It’s not insane to observe that the violence of the private automobile is sometimes used as a tool of white supremacy.

  • t

    >>It’s not insane to observe that the violence of the private automobile is sometimes used as a tool of white supremacy.

    Um, yes it is.

  • Antonio

    Kaja, thanks for the reply to my comment.

    You made a mistake, however, when you left out the actual subject phrase of my sentence–“the way people excuse the violence”–and hence distorted the entire meaning of my post. Please read my comment again and reflect on whether I’m equating the violence of white supremacy and the violence of autocentricity.

    In fact, what I’m saying is comparable is *the way people have excused* historically different forms of violence in the United States (the violence of the car, the violence of white supremacy). This is a cultural as well as a political fact that progressive histories of the automobile and autocentric planning have demonstrated; a long bibliography exists.

    Again, thanks for your reply.


  • Kaja

    > In fact, what I’m saying is comparable is *the way people have excused* historically different forms of violence in the United States (the violence of the car, the violence of white supremacy).

    This remains a false analogy.

    Motor vehicle fatality rates and attendant cultural blindnesses are much more interesting than this. See Arendt’s phrase /banal evil/.

  • My child survived this accident and I saw several vans idling in front of shops blocks from the school this morning (where parents and children are receiving grief counseling).

    What motivates delivery trucks to be left idling without their driver? Are they less likely to get a ticket while in a no standing zone? I would like to better understand the issues in order to be part of the solution.

  • PaulCJr

    Our city laws are just to laxed on crazy drivers. How many on this website almost get run down by fast drivers and those F**king cabbies every week??? Its pitiful. I use to live in San Francisco for sometime and they had a similar chase where two kids were killed by a run away car that someone had parked improperly on a hill. The lady who owned the car went to jail. We should be more demanding in our right as pedestrians to have save walkable city without the fear of being mowed down by a reckless cabbies or drivers. Not to beat the San Francisco reference to death, but there they put the auto on check and San Franciscans demand it. We should take some ques from them and rally like they do for safer streets.

  • Hayley’s Mom

    I’m the mother of the little girl that died at the scene. I agree what happened should have never happened at all. It was a senseless death for my daughter and her friend Diego. If you want to help me and help the two kids please call the Manhattan’s DA office 212-335-9000 and tell them they need to investigate. I never ever want to see this happen to anyone.

    To PaulCJr, I agree and if I can I will fight to get the city to do something about protecting pedestrians, especially the children.

  • anonymous

    Hayley’s Mom, thank you visiting here. As someone who has been close to a situation like yours I think the ability you’ve shown to call others to action has been remarkable and admirable, and you deserve thanks for it.

    Naturally, I am distraught at what happened and my thoughts have been with you. I am sure the same goes for most who visit this site.

  • ManSum

    Dear Hayley’s mom,

    I am a mother of two, 4 and 6. My 2 kids also attended Daycare Center in Chinatown and they made trips to the same library. I cannot imagine what you are going through. I kept thinking this can happen to me. I cannot stop thinking about little Hayley and Diego and you. When I watched clips of Hayley’s video on the internet it is very hard to hold back tears. My heart really goes out to you and your husband. I hope you two will find peace in whatever you are pursuing and please stay strong!

  • ddartley

    Sorry for double-posting this comment but it bears repeating that engine idling is implicated in yet another dual-homicide. The driver who killed two young men in Middle Village stole a car that was left running, unattended.

    The two anti-idling bills that recently passed in City Council are good, but please ask your Council Members to support Garodnick’s anti-idling bill Int 881. It specifically addresses enforcement, rather than just banning or restricting something, so it seems like it could be a more effective anti-idling tool than the other two bills.

  • Stephanie Corne

    The reality is that the DA does not care. The kids aren’t white and from Bay Ridge or Long Island. They don’t care unless they are forced to. So, Yes for disobedience and rallies.
    Pregnant and mother of one, I can only be horrified by this tragedy.


Victims’ Families and Electeds Urge Paterson to Sign Traffic Safety Law

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer pressed for traffic safety legislation. He was joined by, from left, Council Member Margaret Chin, the families of Hayley Ng and Diego Martinez, State Senator Daniel Squadron and Transportation Alternatives director Paul Steely White. Photo: Noah Kazis With the stroke of a pen, Governor David Paterson could make New York’s […]

Council Raises Unattended Idling Fines. Will NYPD Enforce?

The City Council on Wednesday approved a bill that could prevent future disasters like last January’s Chinatown tragedy, which claimed the lives of preschoolers Hayley Ng and Diego Martinez. A revised law attaches a stiff fine to the type of carelessness that caused the deaths of two children in Chinatown, but it’s up to NYPD […]

Grieving Chinatown Families to Morgenthau: We’re Not Going Away

Relatives of Hayley Ng and Diego Martinez, two preschoolers struck and killed by a van in Chinatown on January 22, continue to demand justice from Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. On WCBS television this week, Hayley’s aunt, Wendy Cheung, reiterated both families’ call for citizens to contact Morgenthau’s office and demand further action in the […]

New Bill Would Strengthen Penalties for Dangerous Driving

Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, speaking, with Daniel Squadron and Scott Stringer. To Squadron’s right are Wendy Cheung, Hayley Ng’s aunt, and Jon Adler, representative for the families of Ng and Diego Martinez Legislation prompted by the deaths of two children in Chinatown would mandate a safety course and community service for drivers who seriously injure […]

Careless Driving Amendment Passes Senate, Awaits Action by Assembly

A bill targeted at NYPD’s self-imposed ban on penalizing motorists for careless driving has cleared the State Senate, but awaits passage in the Assembly. The bill would amend Hayley and Diego’s Law by explicitly stating that officers may ticket or arrest drivers who harm pedestrians, cyclists and other vulnerable street users whether or not they […]