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Will DA Ken Thompson Investigate Killing of 14-Year-Old Nicholas Soto?

Following the vehicular killing of 14-year-old Nicholas Soto in Red Hook Monday morning, anonymous police sources were quick to blame the victim, though the crash happened near a school bus and sent Soto through the air, witnesses said. According to press accounts, NYPD won't say if the driver who struck Soto was speeding through an area of Red Hook where drivers routinely endanger lives. Meanwhile, the local precinct community council is scheduled to meet tonight.

Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson. Image: ##
Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson. Image: ##
Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson. Image: ##

Soto was crossing at the corner of Lorraine Street and Hicks Street at around 7 a.m. when the unnamed driver, apparently westbound on Lorraine, slammed into him with a BMW sedan.

Photos from the scene show extensive damage to the right side of the car. The front fender was dented, the hood separated from the headlight bezel, and the windshield nearly punched through. Witnesses say Soto was hit with such force that he was propelled away from the street and over a nearby fence.

From the Post:

“He came running through here, too busy, trying to catch the [school] bus,” said Edward Austin, 54, who witnessed the tragic accident.

Austin said the boy was looking at the bus when [he] ran into the intersection and failed to see the car coming from the opposite direction.

“The car came down, he was moving too damn fast,” he continued, referring to the driver. “The poor kid was bleeding through his eyes.”

“We’re losing our kids out here because [drivers] think this is a damn highway,” Alfredo Otero, a local, told the Post. “This is not the first,” said another resident. “I seen three or four people get hit out here.”

Soto's family and other residents of Red Hook Houses East, where the victim lived, told DNAinfo the corner of Lorraine and Hicks is "notoriously dangerous."

Eddie Soto, Nicholas' father, said his son's death reflected the community's need for safer streets.

"It's not only about my son," Soto said. "It's about everyone else."

"The driver of the BMW remained on scene and and was issued a summons for having his windows tinted illegally," the Post reported. "Police would not say if the driver was speeding."

It's unusual for a New York City district attorney to charge a sober motorist who remains at the scene for killing, but it does happen. In January, Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson charged a driver with manslaughter for the death of a second driver in a crash that apparently did not involve alcohol. Last year Thompson's predecessor Charles Hynes filed assault and homicide charges against the driver who killed 9-year-old pedestrian Lucian Merryweather and injured his younger brother, though the top charge was later downgraded to homicide. (In New York State, criminally negligent homicide is a class E felony, the least severe felony category.)

Unlike states where specific charges are prescribed for vehicular crimes, New York traffic law is highly subjective, and convictions normally depend on a prosecutor’s ability to convince a jury of a motorists’s state of mind. The probability of a serious charge after a fatal crash seems to increase when the driver’s actions are especially brazen. It must also be noted that some DAs are more aggressive than others when it comes to prosecuting vehicular crimes.

Motorist speed and right of way would probably be the key factors in determining whether charges may be pursued in this case. According to reports, this driver hit a child with tremendous force on a neighborhood street where a school bus was picking up children. Yet in this instance police immediately and publicly blamed the deceased child, and a hooded sweatshirt he purportedly had on, while the actions of the driver went unmentioned. It is common for anonymous NYPD sources to leak details to the press -- which often turn out to be inaccurate -- that cast serious crashes as the fault of the victim, but information that could point to the culpability of the driver is rarely revealed.

Streetsblog has asked Thompson's office if prosecutors are investigating this crash. We will update here if we hear back. Motorists have killed at least 15 pedestrians and cyclists in Brooklyn since Thompson took office. Three of those crashes were hit-and-runs in which the driver was not immediately caught or identified. No criminal charges are known to have been filed in any of the 15 cases.

Heat map of crashes in and around Lorraine Street from August 2011 through February 2014, with site of Monday's fatal crash circled. Image: NYC Crashmapper
Heat map of crashes on and around Lorraine Street from August 2011 through February 2014, with site of Monday's fatal crash circled. Image: NYC Crashmapper
Heat map of crashes in and around Lorraine Street from August 2011 through February 2014, with site of Monday's fatal crash circled. Image: NYC Crashmapper

There were six collisions at Lorraine and Hicks from August 2011 to February 2014, with one pedestrian and one motor vehicle occupant injured, according to NYPD data geocoded by NYC Crashmapper. There were 21 collisions during that time frame one block west, at the intersection of Lorraine and Columbia Street, with injuries to three pedestrians, one cyclist, and three vehicle occupants.

Along the length of Lorraine Street, which runs six blocks west to east, there were 74 collisions from August 2011 to February 2014, with injuries to seven pedestrians, two cyclists, and eight vehicle occupants. There were crashes at most intersections on surrounding blocks.

As of April, officers from the 76th Precinct, where this crash occurred, had ticketed 64 drivers for speeding in 2014, and had issued 61 summonses for failure to yield to a pedestrian.

The 76th Precinct community council meets tonight at 7:30 at the station house, 191 Union Street, according to the precinct web site. The precinct's community affairs officer could not immediately be reached for confirmation. Call 718-834-3211 for info.

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