Council Members Press NYPD to Enforce the Law in Death of Sui Leung

Under a new Vision Zero law, a driver who critically injures or kills a pedestrian or cyclist who has the right of way is guilty of a misdemeanor. But nearly two months after it took effect, there is no evidence NYPD is applying the law, known as Section 19-190, as Mayor de Blasio and the City Council intended. This week, three council members expressly asked NYPD to charge a motorist who killed a senior in Manhattan, and the response from NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan has troubling implications about how police are enforcing the new law.

Image: NBC

On the afternoon of September 25, a commercial van driver hit 82-year-old Sui Leung as she crossed in the crosswalk at Kenmare and Elizabeth Streets. Leung was pronounced dead at Downtown Hospital. NYPD would not identify the driver, but the van belonged to Party Rental Ltd. of Teterboro, New Jersey.

“Police did not suspect any criminality and the driver was not charged,” the Daily News reported. NYPD told Streetsblog the driver had a green light. But a visit to the intersection showed that there is no exclusive turn phase at Kenmare and Elizabeth — meaning Leung would have had a walk signal when the driver had a green, and would therefore have had the right of way.

“She had the right of way,” said City Council Member Margaret Chin, who represents the area where the crash occurred. “The driver is supposed to yield to pedestrians.”

Chin told Streetsblog her staff has spoken with Leung’s family. “From what we know of Ms. Leung, she’s an active senior,” said Chin. “She goes to the senior center every day. She walks from her home to Chinatown. The family is also very upset about what happened.”

“It’s just so clear that she had the right of way and the driver needs to be prosecuted,” Chin said. “You’re talking about someone getting killed.”

On Wednesday, Chin and other council members sent a letter to Chan [PDF]. Based on the details provided in the NYPD crash report, which according to Chin showed Leung “unquestionably did nothing wrong,” she urged NYPD to file charges under Section 19-190. The letter was co-signed by Council Member Rosie Mendez, who represents the area where Leung lived, and Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the council transportation committee.

[W]e feel strongly that in order to achieve justice in this case, charges must be filed against the driver.

If we are really serious about committing to the principles of Vision Zero in New York City, as well as clearly sending that message to all our residents, we must hold drivers fully accountable when their negligent actions result in pedestrian injuries or deaths. This is about creating a true culture shift in our city reagrding street safety, as well as establishing a strong standard of equal respect and justice for all who use the road, whether they are pedestrians, cyclists or drivers, and regardless of their age or level of mobility.

Chan has called Chin’s office in response, according to her spokesperson, Sam Spokony. “He said that the investigation is still open,” Spokony said. “They’re looking at additional video.” Chan said a witness whom investigators want to interview is currently out of the state.

Spokony said Chan “didn’t promise anything” in terms of filing charges, and would keep Chin informed. “That’s definitely encouraging,” said Spokony. “Obviously, the case isn’t closed.”

Section 19-190, however, was meant to put an end to NYPD’s “observed violation rule” — which prevented precinct officers from citing motorists unless they personally witnessed a violation. The new law is supposed to empower these officers to charge motorists who injure or kill whether or not they see the act itself. Given the thousands of crashes that injure pedestrians and cyclists each year and historical data showing the prevalence of motorists’ failure to yield as a primary cause, local officers should be issuing Section 19-190 charges multiple times a day.

But judging from the one known application of the law since it took effect, and information provided by Chan to Chin’s office, NYPD is reserving its use for the most serious crashes, which are investigated by the Collision Investigation Squad.

Drivers injured and killed over 16,000 pedestrians and cyclists in 2013; CIS works around 300 cases a year. Unless NYPD begins enforcing Section 19-190 as it was intended, the vast majority of drivers who harm pedestrians and cyclists will continue to go unpenalized.

“Something should have been done at the scene,” said Chin. “There was clear evidence of what happened.”

Chin suggested the council may hold oversight hearings on Section 19-190 enforcement. “It is part of our commitment to Vision Zero,” she said, “so we want to make sure in situations like this that drivers are held accountable.”

  • armyvet05

    Other than a pedestrian running into the crosswalk, what could possibly block charging the driver who turns on a green light (light, not arrow) with 19-190?

  • I am impressed with the commitment of these statements from our electeds. We need more of this, until NYPD and Vance’s office are both on-board.

  • BBnet3000

    “NYPD is reserving its use for the most serious crashes, which are investigated by the Collision Investigation Squad.”

    This isnt one of those? Would multiple people have had to die to constitute a serious crash?

  • Jeff

    “Other than a pedestrian running into the crosswalk”

    Is there a pedestrian speed limit that I am unaware of?

  • dporpentine

    Uh, I think the point of “running” isn’t about speed but about being unforeseeable. And it’s a reasonable point.

  • gttim

    I think a police officer has to die before it is considered serious.

  • Jeff

    I mean yeah, Russian dash-cam-style stuff notwithstanding, how fast are people driving through crosswalks? Would it be unreasonable for people to drive through slowly enough such that they could literally stop on a dime, and failing that, any collision would be a non-issue?

  • “It’s just so clear that she had the right of way and the driver needs to be prosecuted,” Chin said. “You’re talking about someone getting killed.”

    It’s rare that an elected official articulates the problem so clearly, and sad that it needs to be said. Thank you, Margaret Chin.

  • Alex

    Stop on a dime is probably a bit much to ask. Even at 10 MPH it’s pretty hard to stop that fast. I’m willing to be reasonable and admit there are instances where pedestrians do literally “dart into traffic”. But it’s not nearly to the degree those with a windshield perspective want to believe. And I guarantee it’s not 82-year-old ladies.

  • armyvet05

    Um, it is the law. This is an article about laws; perhaps you can get familiar with the topic first, ask questions second.

    S 1151. Pedestrians` right of way in crosswalks. (a) When
    traffic-control signals are not in place or not in operation the driver
    of a vehicle shall yield the right of way, slowing down or stopping if
    need be to so yield, to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within a
    crosswalk on the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling, except
    that any pedestrian crossing a roadway at a point where a pedestrian
    tunnel or overpass has been provided shall yield the right of way to all
    vehicles.
    (b) No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety
    and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is
    impractical for the driver to yield.
    (c) Whenever any vehicle is stopped at a marked crosswalk or at any
    unmarked crosswalk at an intersection to permit a pedestrian to cross
    the roadway, the driver of any other vehicle approaching from the rear
    shall not overtake and pass such stopped vehicle.

  • Kevin Love

    No, for serious charges like Attempted Murder to be laid, all it takes is for an NYPD officer to suffer such minor injuries that they are promptly released from hospital. See:

    http://nypost.com/2012/08/22/driver-held-in-cop-hit/

  • armyvet05

    It is the law that pedestrians don’t enter the crosswalk suddenly.

    “No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is
    impractical for the driver to yield.”

  • bored at work

    Are you really suggesting that this 82 woman ran into the crosswalk and that’s why she was hit? Or just making the point that you can google the appropriate section of the law?

  • Brad Aaron

    Yes this is one of those, but the purpose of Section 19-190 was to give beat cops the power to file charges for the thousands of other injury crashes that CIS does not investigate. So far that isn’t happening.

  • armyvet05

    Are you really this dense? I am asking- UNLESS a person runs into the crosswalk- what reason do cops have to NOT charge the driver with a violation of 19-190? Please read before you comment.

  • walks bikes drives

    Sad. When CIS investigates, homicide charges should be filed. The misdemeanor charges should only be applied as either initial charges or when CIS does not investigate.

  • bored at work

    why all the anger? perhaps if your screed were a bit more coherent, there wouldn’t be all the confusion.

  • armyvet05

    Sure, the problem is coherence, not people that jump to conclusions and have poor reading comprehension.

  • Joe R.

    Apparently the police are of a different mind:

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2014/08/29/chin-calls-for-safety-fixes-after-driver-injures-three-women-on-south-street/

    In this case, they didn’t charge the driver with anything because must have thought not one, not two, but three women, ages 60, 67, and 70, could all suddenly jump in front of a car simultaneously.

    NYC’s elderly must be in really great shape with all those death defying leaps in front of motor vehicles. Maybe we should start a senior Olympics here.

  • KeNYC2030

    Let me get this straight: To establish that an 82-year-old woman crossing with the light in a crosswalk had the right of way they need more video evidence and the testimony of a currently out-of-state witness?

  • Mark Walker

    Arrest drivers who kill? The police have so many more important things to do. Like this:

    http://www.queerty.com/nypd-sued-again-over-homophobic-entrapment-stings-20141009

  • Mat50

    given the info in the comments so far, there is still no clear answer as to why the NYPD refuses to enforce what is clearly the law. Force their law department to clarify or remove themselves from their occupation.

  • chekpeds

    WE NEEED SPLIT PHASE SIGNALS AT ALL INTERSECTIONS… it will take 10 years for the NYPD to change.. but the street design can change tomorrow.

  • lop

    No buy Boulder has bikes in crosswalks a lot, so they have an 8 mph speed limit for them, it might apply to pedestrians too.

  • lop

    Most drivers seem to think it’s impractical to yield if it requires taking their foot off the gas pedal, never mind hitting the brake.

  • Joe R.

    NYC has a default pedestrian speed limit of 3 mph which they are considering lowering to 2.5 mph. There is also a plan for additional 2 mph “slow zones” where the elderly don’t have to worry about being run down by pedestrians speeding at 5, even 6 mph. The limits will be enforced by pedestrian speed cameras and license numbers which everyone walking on NYC sidewalks will have tattoed on their foreheads. This proposal will keep motorists safe from colliding with errant, speeding pedestrians.

  • Nathanael

    The police shouldn’t be able to just choose not to prosecute. The technical term for that is “corruption”.

    The City Council needs to also write to the Manhattan DA, Cyrus Vance, who is supposed to do the prosecution. He seems to be as corrupt as the NYPD. I know the City Council can’t remove him directly, but they sure could make it hard for him to be re-elected.

  • Devan

    In NY, the cops are just as bad if not worse than the criminals.

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