Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson: $500 Fine for Unlicensed Driver Who Killed Senior

The driver who killed Brooklyn pedestrian Maude Savage was charged for failure to yield and driving without a license, but Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson did not charge him with criminal negligence under the "rule of two." Crash still via Daily News. Thompson image: NY1
The driver who killed Brooklyn pedestrian Maude Savage last year was charged for failure to yield and driving without a license, but Brooklyn DA Ken Thompson did not charge him with criminal negligence under the so-called “rule of two.” Crash still via Daily News. Thompson image: NY1

An unlicensed driver was sentenced to a small fine and probation after he ran over and killed a Brooklyn senior who was crossing with the right of way, per the terms of a plea deal with District Attorney Ken Thompson. Though the driver was charged with committing two traffic offenses at the time of the crash, he was not charged with criminal negligence under the so-called “rule of two.”

Maude Savage, 72, waited for the signal before entering the crosswalk at Sutter and Euclid Avenues last November 25. She was mid-way across the street when Robert Brown drove a commercial van into her. Video of the crash shows that Brown barely slowed as he made a left turn, leaving Savage no time to clear his path. She died from her injuries.

Brown was charged by then-DA Charles Hynes with aggravated unlicensed operation, a misdemeanor that stipulates that he drove without a license when he knew or should have known he didn’t have one. He was also ticketed for failure to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk, according to court records.

Theoretically, the crash that killed Maude Savage should have triggered the “rule of two,” case law precedent that 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. New York City prosecutors regularly cite the rule of two as an obstacle to charging motorists for killing, but routinely fail to bring charges after crashes involving two or more traffic violations. True to form, Hynes and Thompson did not upgrade charges against Brown.

Aggravated unlicensed operation is seemingly the default charge against unlicensed drivers who kill New York City pedestrians. It’s the same charge that is applied against unlicensed drivers who turn without signaling. In June Brown pled guilty to unlicensed operation in the second degree, a charge that may be applied when a defendant is caught driving without a license after prior convictions for unlicensed driving, or when the defendant’s license was previously suspended or revoked pursuant to a drug or alcohol related driving offense.

Second degree unlicensed operation is an unclassified misdemeanor with penalties including jail time, probation, and a fine of not less than $500. According to court records, Brown was sentenced last week to a $500 fine and two years probation.

As of August it is a misdemeanor for a driver to injure or kill a New York City pedestrian or cyclist who has the right of way. Motorists have killed at least 13 pedestrians since the law took effect, and NYPD has applied the law once.

  • LimestoneKid

    This is outrageous!

  • vnm

    This is utterly and completely outrageous. Most of us are told when we’re teenagers in Driver’s Ed: you have to have a driver’s license if you want to drive a car. If you don’t, the punishment is very severe! And I think most people at least subconsciously make sure they have their wallet with them when they get behind the wheel, in case they are stopped. In this case, the driver didn’t have a license. And he killed someone! And what is the punishment? A fine? How can this be the case? What happens if people are stopped without a license and there’s no other infraction? What is the point of having drivers’ licenses, other than getting into bars and nightclubs??

  • r

    The punishment for following the law is death. The punishment for breaking the law is a slap on the wrist. Got it.

  • Eric McClure

    Why do we even bother having laws?

  • Mark Walker

    So, effectively, licensing is optional.

  • Mat50

    start making your voting laundry list as to who gets removed.

  • chelsea rogers.

    My thoughts exactly for the last several months. It’s time for some enforcement and anyone who can’t wrap their heads around it is gone in my mind. Here’s hoping enough people feel that way.

  • Bobberooni

    If I did that on my electric bike but didn’t kill the pedestrian, the fine would be $1000.

  • I don’t think it’s overly cynical, Eric, to suggest the laws are there so that the police can throw the book at someone as and when they get a sudden urge to do so. They then largely exercise their discretion by ignoring them.

    I know from having brought two cases recently to the Taxi & Limousine Commission that they tend to threaten drivers with significant fines for serious charges as a lever to achieve a clean, simple plea bargain. In one of the two recent cases I brought, the driver didn’t plea bargain (or even turn up for the hearing) and was hit with a $3,050 fine for serious charges. In the other case, the driver negotiated a plea bargain and paid $200 and agreed he’d committed a moving violation.

    I get the feeling there might be a similar process at work here. Drivers are threatened with serious consequences and then get off with a relatively light fine (shockingly, in this case, the minimum possible fine) in return for making the prosecutors’ lives easy by plea-bargaining.

    This is a grubby process, which doesn’t do any justice to people such as Maude Savage.

  • Anxiously Awaiting Bikeshare

    So I am not one to push for anyone to be jailed for just about any offense, and I really like plea deals, but can’t the DA at least get 500 hours of community service, a suspended sentence, and more years of parole out of this plea bargain?

  • J

    The fact that the prosecutors were willing to accept the minimum fine tells you a lot about how much they are willing to work for justice in cases like this.

  • J

    The value of the life of a law-abiding pedestrian is, apparently, $500. Pathetic.

  • Vernon6

    I’m curious to know what penalty a similar offense would carry in Germany, France, Sweden, Austria, etc.

  • Brooklynite

    Why aren’t fifty of us out in front of his office tomorrow morning throwing rotten tomatoes and fruit at Ken Thompson? In this he is failing at the most basic aspect of his job. He has released a known killer back onto the streets of our community without any meaningful penalty or application of justice. Robert Brown could be driving through your neighborhood at this very moment. He may even still be unlicensed. How is this possible?

  • Joe R.

    Unlicensed driving should at the very least be penalized by forfeiture of the vehicle.

  • walks bikes drives

    Nah, he’s not a known killer. He was driving a car. She just got in his way.

  • walks bikes drives

    And if you kill someone, pay $500 and have fun.

  • LimestoneKid

    If you did that the NY Post would make you public enemy #1.

  • qrt145

    At least he didn’t harm a cat…

  • Roger87

    Unlicensed operation of a commercial vehicle, no less.

  • Terry

    You would think that a diver who kills someone would at least be charged, in addition to the fine, the cost of removing the dead body and of any autopsy and so forth. That should be a minimum. So then the news could say that the driver was fined say $500 and also had to pay the city, for example, $1,843.15 for the removal of the dead body. Not only would it be fair, but maybe that would help people realize that SOMEBODY GOT KILLED.

  • neroden

    The epidemic of lawlessness in the US is caused by the DA’s ability to “excuse” lawbreaking by simply not prosecuting. You can murder a million people, and if the DA is in your pocket, you never go to trial.

    By the way, in the UK there’s a protection against this: it’s called “private prosecutions”. Anyone can prosecute a criminal case in the UK, and when the public prosecutor is being corrupt, sometimes people raise the money and do so. This keeps the public prosecutors honest.

    I’m not sure when private prosecutions dropped out of the US legal system, but we may need to bring them back.

  • neroden

    Trouble is, have you got a good DA candidate? It’s been really hard, so far, to replace these guys. At least Thompson is prosecuting some of the policemen who’ve murdered and assaulted citizens — which is better than the Manhattan DA, Vance. Seems like baby steps.

  • neroden

    Plea bargains are really unconstitutional — they constitute corruption *and* blackmail on the part of the prosecutors — and I’m not sure why they’re allowed. I also don’t know how we get rid of them. Theoretically, the grand jury can simply ignore the prosecutors’ corrupt bargains, but grand juries have been neutered.


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