Robert Johnson Charges Reckless Endangerment for Bronx Pedestrian Death

A motorist accused of killing a pedestrian in the Bronx has been charged with reckless endangerment by District Attorney Robert Johnson. Though the driver was allegedly breaking multiple laws at the time of the crash, he was not charged with a more serious offense under the so-called “rule of two.”

James Ruiz was allegedly breaking multiple laws when he struck a Bronx pedestrian. Photo: Daily News

The 55-year-old male victim, the first reported NYC pedestrian fatality of 2013, was struck at East Tremont and Mapes Avenues on the afternoon of January 5. Witnesses described a violent, high-speed crash. From the Daily News:

Horrified witnesses said the unnamed victim flew 20 feet after being hit by a red 1995 Honda shortly after 1 p.m.

“He landed twisted,” witness Cosmic Jones, 49, said. “His feet were up, but his face was down toward the pavement with blood coming from the head.”

The Honda, which had a smashed windshield and a human-sized indent on the driver’s side, was left on Tremont Avenue as investigators inspected the scene.

“The car was flying down the street,” said Dion Brannon, 26. “The guy was crossing the middle of the road, but by the time (the car) slowed down, it was too late.”

James Ruiz, 21, reportedly slammed into the victim hard enough to sustain a laceration to the head, possibly from the car’s shattered windshield.

Ruiz was initially charged with aggravated unlicensed operation, failure to exercise due care and criminal impersonation, according to NYPD. Online court records indicate that current charges against Ruiz are unlicensed driving, third degree aggravated unlicensed operation, false impersonation, reckless driving, and a top charge of second degree reckless endangerment.

Per New York State code, “A person is guilty of reckless endangerment in the second degree when he recklessly engages in conduct which creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person.” In lay terms, reckless endangerment requires proof that a driver was aware of a risk of seriously injuring someone else, according to attorney Steve Vaccaro.

Traffic safety advocates have long for called for NYPD and city district attorneys to bring charges of reckless endangerment against motorists who kill pedestrians and cyclists, but such prosecutions are relatively uncommon. It is possible that the circumstances of this crash — the victim run down on a neighborhood street by an accused speeding driver in broad daylight — coupled with Ruiz’s other alleged offenses prompted the more serious charge.

Second degree reckless endangerment is a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail. Though Ruiz was charged with a host of offenses, he was not charged for taking a life, despite the “rule of two,” which 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.

NYPD had not yet released the identity of the pedestrian when we contacted the department days after the crash, and a Johnson spokesperson said the DA’s policy against disclosing information on pending cases also applies to the names of victims, even when the victim has died.

We will continue to follow this case as it develops.

  • Kevin Love

    This is crazy. The way that it is described, reckless endangerment is the charge to lay when a reckless, negligent car driver has a near miss and almost kills someone. There was no “risk of serious physical injury” here, someone ACTUALLY died. And a maximum of only a year in jail? For killing someone? What a sick joke.

    Meanwhile, in the rest of the world, where people’s lives are taken seriously… We don’t have to look far, just across the New York border into Ontario. Where Mr. Ruiz would have been charged with “Dangerous Driving Causing Death,” which is good for 10 years in jail.

  • Anonymous

    “Endangerment”? For fuck’s sake that man is dead, not merely “endangered”. Dead. Killed by a psychopath.

  • Ian Turner

    I would say that the fact that someone died from injuries is conclusive evidence that there was in fact a risk of serious physical injury.

  • Anonymous

    Unfortunately, the prosecution needs to prove that the driver was aware of the risk. Since post hoc mind reading was impossible the last time I checked, they at least need to convince the jury that a “reasonable person” would be. But given that nearly every driver speeds and breaks many other traffic laws, it may be hard to convince some drivers on the jury.

  • Kevin Love

    Reckless Endangerment is the charge to lay when there is a near miss that poses a “risk of serious physical injury.”

    For every death or serious injury there are approximately 23 near misses of where the car driver was doing something negligent and reckless but did not harm anyone due to nothing more than luck. The goal is to get the car driver into jail on one of the 23 near misses BEFORE the car driver kills or injures someone.

    In places where human life is taken seriously, the police lay appropriate charges on the near misses and get the car driver in jail before he kills or injures someone. I dream of one day having an NYPD that actually enforces and upholds the law in the face of violent, dangerous criminals.

  • Anonymous

    Where does the “23 near misses” figure come from?

  • Angel Castro

    He is not a phyco u ass my cousin James is dead now too for sucide!!!! He was young and reckless but a good kid who was broken and effected by this !!!