Victims Arrested, Assailants Walk Free: Dark Days for Traffic Justice

Few regular readers of this blog need to be convinced that pedestrians and cyclists of all stripes — i.e. the vast majority of New Yorkers — are completely vulnerable to serious injury and death at the hands of reckless motorists. Though collisions, near misses and confrontations occur with such frequency that even fatalities often go overlooked in the media, every now and then a flurry of events shows just how far we have to go in balancing the scales of traffic justice. To wit, here’s what’s happened in the last few days:

  • Last Thursday, 8-year-old Axel Pablo was struck down by a yellow cab driver as he and family members crossed a Harlem street. Witnesses say the driver, Akim Saiful Alam, was speeding and talking on a cell phone as he rounded the corner and hit Axel in the crosswalk at Lexington Avenue and 112th Street, and that he would have fled the scene had bystanders not forced him to stop. The crowd cheered as Alam was taken away in cuffs, but he was released a short time later, NYPD having determined that he had violated no laws.
  • On Friday morning, Queens pedestrian Gerald Beekman had his first court appearance stemming from a May incident in Long Island City. Beekman was arrested by NYPD officers and charged by District Attorney Richard A. Brown’s office with criminal mischief for allegedly damaging the vehicle of a driver he says nearly ran him over, along with his two dogs, two times in a matter of minutes. From what we can determine, Beekman’s accuser, the unidentified driver, faces no charges. (An update on Beekman’s case is forthcoming.) Meanwhile, cyclist Ray Bengen — facing a criminal mischief charge in Manhattan for touching the SUV of a driver he thought was about to mow him down — has seen his livelihood threatened as DA Robert Morgenthau’s office keeps him in legal purgatory.
  • Yesterday Gawker reported that Morgenthau’s office will not be pursuing charges against Don Broderick, the driver who allegedly attacked Central Park cyclist Brian Dooda with his SUV in June. Broderick is said to have hit Dooda before driving through the park with the cyclist hanging onto the hood, then driving off. A Morgenthau spokesperson told Gawker that prosecutors “could not sustain the burden of proof on personal injury” but declined to comment on the decision not to charge Broderick with leaving the scene.
  • On Friday evening, cyclist and safe streets advocate James Langergaard died at a Queens Boulevard intersection. His relatives were told that witnesses say Langergaard, an experienced and by all accounts conscientious rider, ran a red light. But as in the case of Rasha Shamoon, another cyclist known for safety whose fatal August 2008 collision was recounted to police by her killer and his friends, the circumstances of Langergaard’s death went uninvestigated and unreported by local media.

To sum up: Tell the police a pedestrian or cyclist touched your vehicle, have the perp hauled in. Get taken for a ride on the hood of a raging sociopath’s SUV, or watch your child struck dead by a speeding distracted driver, police and prosecutors just can’t make a case. Tell the police you saw a motorist break the law and injure or kill, get ignored. Tell the police you saw a pedestrian or cyclist break the law and get injured or killed, case closed.

It is hopeful that DA candidates are taking traffic justice seriously in the current election. Help can’t come soon enough.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

DA Candidate Aborn Unveils Transportation Safety Plank

|
The collision that claimed the life of eight-year-old Axel Pablo yesterday afternoon was another sobering reminder of New York City law enforcement’s institutional failure to deter deadly driving. Police let the cab driver who killed Pablo, Akim Saiful Alam, leave their custody after deciding that he had not committed a criminal act. Even adherence to […]

When Dodging Death Becomes a Fact of Life

|
Lisa Sladkus sent in this photo of yesterday’s mayhem at the 72nd Street subway station. For the second time (that we know of) in less than a week, a yellow cab driver has wreaked havoc on Manhattan streets, terrorizing pedestrians and leaving a trail of destruction. Miraculously, unlike Akim Saiful Alam, the unidentified driver in […]

NYC Prosecutors Lag Behind Nassau on Traffic Justice

|
Seekers of traffic justice have their work cut out for them in 2009. Even as the City Council dismisses cries for help from victims and their families, January has already brought news of a nine-year-old run down by an unlicensed driver who may or may not be criminally charged, and a DWI pedestrian killer who […]

Bill to Protect Pedestrians and Cyclists Will Resurface in Albany

|
Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, speaking, with Daniel Squadron and Scott Stringer at last year’s rally for Hayley and Diego’s Law. To Squadron’s right are Wendy Cheung, Hayley Ng’s aunt, and Jon Adler, representative for the families of Ng and Diego Martinez. With the state legislative session underway, Albany will soon turn its attention to business […]

Eyes on the Street: Biking the Beat

|
Last week we shared a pic from reader Moocow, who spotted a traffic enforcement agent on two wheels in the South Slope. Today Dave “Paco” Abraham sent in this shot of a New York City police officer making the rounds on a bike. Paco says that this officer left behind a trail of enhanced public […]

Is Manhattan DA Cy Vance Delivering on Traffic Justice?

|
The 2009 race for Manhattan district attorney presented a rare opportunity for proponents of safer streets. After decades of indifference toward victims of vehicular violence from Robert Morgenthau, advocates succeeded in making traffic justice a prominent campaign issue for his would-be successors. Contenders for the office pledged to take definitive action to reduce the carnage […]