Maximum Penalty for Cab Driver Who Killed Cooper Stock: 15 Days and $750

The cab driver who killed 9-year-old Cooper Stock last January was charged this month with failure to exercise due care, a traffic infraction that carries a maximum 15-day jail sentence and a small fine.

Cooper Stock. Photo: Barron Lerner via ##http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/24/treat-reckless-driving-like-drunk-driving/##New York Times##
Cooper Stock. Photo: Barron Lerner via ##http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/24/treat-reckless-driving-like-drunk-driving/##New York Times##

According to court records and the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, an arrest warrant was issued for Koffi Komlani on October 1. He was arraigned in criminal court on October 7, pled not guilty, and was released on his own recognizance.

Here’s how the Daily News described the latest developments in the case, in a story that ran today:

The cabbie who hit and killed 9-year-old Cooper Stock, as the child crossed the street with his father, has been charged in the boy’s death, the Daily News has learned.

Driver Koffi Komlani was arrested Oct. 8 and charged with failure to exercise due care by the Manhattan district attorney, sources said Thursday.

It’s common for the tabloids to make it seem as if law enforcers are seeing justice done for victims of traffic violence when, in actuality, the motorist in question faces relatively mild consequences. The Daily News story looks like another example.

Failure to exercise due care is a violation of VTL 1146 — Hayley and Diego’s Law. Though Komlani was arraigned in criminal court, this is a traffic violation, not a criminal offense. Drivers summonsed for careless driving are subject to jail time of up to 15 days, fines of up to $750, a license suspension of up to six months, and a mandatory drivers’ ed course. These are maximum penalties. The minimum is no penalty at all.

Prosecutors with Vance’s office told Cooper’s family last spring that they would not be filing criminal charges against Komlani.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission opted not to renew Komlani’s probationary hack license when it expired in July. Vance’s office said the judge suspended his drivers license pending the outcome of the case. Komlani’s next court appearance is scheduled for December.

  • Nathan

    The tone of this article is disturbing to me. It seems like the author would be happy if the driver was thrown in jail for a long time? I understand the need to strip the impunity from driving and to make drivers aware of the privilege and responsibilty of motor vehicle operation, but why is the common solution to that (particularly on this site) strengthening criminal penalties? It says that TLC did not renew his hack license and his drivers license is suspended pending further review. Why not fight for a stronger ability to suspend drivers licenses and stricter DMV regulations and education? I know it’s a much more difficult fight at the state level, but prison is not the answer. The livable/safe streets movement has enough trouble appealing beyond the white professional/creative class bubble and often aligns itself (by design or proxy) with the worst kind of gentrifiers — actively vouching for a strengthened carceral state is not helping your cause.

  • Maggie

    I’m not a lawyer, but: this driver killed a kid. A woman was sentenced to three months in jail for elbowing a cop at an Occupy Wall Street protest, on the same week earlier this spring that Cy Vance announced he wasn’t going to charge this driver – who killed a kid – with anything. The lack of parity here seems so ridiculous and socially detrimental.

    I don’t see people arguing for leniency or less jail time than two consecutive life sentences for the allegedly psychotic nanny who allegedly killed two kids on the UWS in 2012. Killing a kid is not like smoking pot, or paying your taxes late, or selling loose cigarettes. It’s killing a kid. This is just my view, and I’m sensitive to the need for fair sentencing and well-run penal systems. But I think meaningful jail time is warranted.

  • cmu

    Would someone cognizant of the law explain to this layman why he was not charged with, say vehicular manslaughter? Obviously anyone in a ped. crossing has the right of way, so hitting a ped, far from killing them, should be a criminal offense. Is this a peculiarity of NY law? I believe in CA there are much more stringent laws. I certainly know that in most of Europe, a driver hitting a ped. in any way is held maximally reponsible. How can we get the laws changed here if that’s what it takes?

  • JudenChino

    Huh? They’re not advocating stop and frisk and jail time for possession of marihuana. If you negligently kill a kid you should get jail time. I really don’t see the problem. If you leave your loaded gun around and your kid picks it up and blows the pizza delivery mans head off, you
    should get jail time.

    If you see a bunch of oily rags and you flick your cigarette onto it causing a fire which results in people dying, you should go to jail for it.

    I don’t understand this fucked up notion of driver’s privilege. A bicyclist got over $1K in fines for slow rolling through 3 reds in a row in Williamsburg when it was safe to proceed. But to apply actual penalties to drivers, we have to walk around on our tippy toes, so as not to offend? Fuck that shit.

    Fear of jail time will go along way towards reforming driver’s behavior. This shit is basic. Take the guy who ran over the woman crossing the street at Kenmare at 4am. http://www.streetsblog.org/2014/09/26/no-charges-for-van-driver-who-killed-elderly-woman-in-crosswalk/ I bet he was just groggy and didn’t see the old lady in front of him when the light changed. If he knew that he could potentially go to jail for 1-3 years (or 3-5?, IDK, local pols are pushing hard for a misdeamoner and light fine), he probably would’ve paid closer attention.

    You see, people in cars (including myself from time to time), tend to be in a hurry and getting to X on time (or trying to not be late as they are) tends to be the priority. If they’d realize, that they’re in a machine that’s great for killing pedestrians/cyclists, and that such killing machine could land them jail time, that fear of jail time might temper their desire to get to X ASAP.

    This is fucking criminal: http://www.streetsblog.org/2012/04/26/mike-rogalle-killed-by-curb-jumping-driver-in-manhattan-no-charges-filed/

    Why aren’t cops hauling those people to jail? Why is it that OWS gets 100s of cops but driving like a madman in narrow/dense FiDi gets you no punishment, when you kill someone? These people are criminals. They just might not always “look” like how we expect criminals to look.

    ***

    This is rich:

    I understand the need to strip the impunity from driving and to make drivers aware of the privilege and responsibility of motor vehicle operation, but why is the common solution to that (particularly on this site) strengthening criminal penalties? It says that TLC did not renew his hack license and his drivers license is suspended pending further review. Why not fight for a stronger ability to suspend drivers licenses and stricter DMV regulations and education?

    Anyone see the logical fallacy here? Fighting for suspended licenses? Sometimes, they’re already on a suspended licences. A probationary hack license suspended pending further review?

    If I kill a kid while driving and it’s my fault and the worst is a suspended license, then yes, I’m effectively driving with impunity.

  • dporpentine

    Is there a single method of killing a child other than murder-by-car that you would argue should be treated as oops-you-get-a-do-over?

    Seriously, I’m given the task of transporting a bag of anthrax and rushing to get it to the next lab I dose a child with it. The child dies.

    For fun, let’s say this is a child you care about.

    When I lose my official anthrax-carrier license and possibly as much as $750 (7!5!0! dollars!), do you really think, “Justice! Sweet, sweet justice!”?

    And keep in mind: it’s almost certain that’s every single thing that will happen as a result. There won’t be a halfway meaningful civil penalty. It’ll just be that.

    Remember: a child is dead, a child you (in this scenario) care about, and you’re really going to pretend that you’d be satisfied by $750 and a very slight narrowing of the killer’s employment prospects?

  • I think the writer of the article is bringing attention to the fact that the penalty for carelessly running someone over and killing them is rather lenient.

  • walks bikes drives

    And what do you think the result should be?

    If you kill someone, you are not allowed to legally drive anymore? So what? Now I’ll just drive illegally. Oh wait, plenty of drivers kill someone while driving with no license or a suspended license. What other possible penalty should there be for taking someone’s life other than incarceration? Half of the things we incarcerate people for are bullshit, but here is one thing that is legit. We’re not talking about saying you should go to jail because you could have killed someone, we’re saying you should go to jail because you DID kill someone.

  • Alicia

    but why is the common solution to that (particularly on this site) strengthening criminal penalties?

    He killed someone. Why don’t you think that deserves criminal penalties? It should be treated as manslaughter at best.

    How is sending someone to prison for killing other people “disturbing” to you?

  • Jim

    The blog and many who comment tend to aim at large, structural changes in transportation and infrastructure. The attention to motor vehicles as necessarily violent, and the efforts to restructure roadways and promote cycling and walking, illustrate this. But there’s a contradictory effort that ignores these structural issues when the blog authors so often seek to enact penalties on individuals whose actions result in harm or death, even when those actions were individually accidental and the harm is from something structural–the use of deadly vehicles, the hazardous infrastructure.

    In this case, the cab driver already himself seems to be a victim of the same structures the blog opposes: he seems economically disempowered and dependent on driving a motor vehicle to survive. He has to do this using a flawed infrastructure. The outcomes are tragic.

    These things do not excuse the killing of the child. Rather, I’m suggesting that those on this blog who call for increased individual punishment of people like this cab driver are contradicting the larger interests of the blog. The problem is the system that requires the driver to act as he did, and that protects a flawed infrastructure and violent means of transportation. Focusing on imprisoning an immigrant cab driver pretends he is the problem when he is instead another symptom, as are all of us who drive cars.

  • Alicia

    It’s possible that driving a cab was the best job he could get, but I don’t think that’s relevant. What about the “system” forced him into breaking traffic laws and mowing down a pedestrian? Are you saying that he should be exempt from penalties for breaking traffic laws because he is an immigrant?

  • dporpentine

    Criminy. What fake progressivism.

    1) Please explain to me why you think that the killer was (a) an immigrant, (b) economically disempowered (please also show me how that means something other than “poor” dressed up in extra syllables), and (c) dependent solely on driving to survive, without any other outside skills. I’m guessing the answer is: a series of none-too-respectful inferences from his name and his job.

    2) Of what relevance is it, really, that someone is an immigrant? Please explain what other fundamental responsibilities toward your fellow people that essentially exempts you from.

    3) He ran over a living human being–a child, walking hand-in-hand with his father–and claimed he didn’t see him at all. At all. Neither child nor father. This is recklessness of a highly personal, nonstructural sort.

    4) This is just a monumentally condescending, anti-human line: “Focusing on imprisoning an immigrant cab driver pretends he is the problem when he is instead another symptom.” Please walk up to that driver and tell him he’s merely a symptom. I suspect he might not like being utterly dehumanized in that way. Then go to the parents of the kid and say that too. I wouldn’t want to be within a hundred miles when you do.

  • Kevin Love

    I agree. Fake progressivism that we do not see applied to any other crime of violence.

    Infrastructure vs. enforcement is not an either/or thing. We can have both.

    Let’s see how ridiculous this becomes when applied to other crimes of violence: suppose that, due to a flimsy lock, a rapist was able to easily break in and attack his victim.

    Are we going to say: “Its an infrastructure issue. Proper locks would have kept the rapist out. No criminality suspected.”

    I think not.

  • Joe R.

    I recall an instance last year where a cyclist was charged with running three red lights, and given a $1500 fine which the judge upheld. This was for something which was demonstrably harmless as he killed or injured nobody when passing the red lights. Here we have a driver who not only failed to yield as required, but killed someone by his failure to do so. And yet the penalty is half that of a cyclist who hurt nobody.

    I personally don’t care about incarceration in cases like this unless the person is also a danger to society when they’re not driving. The point of incarceration is to protect society from people who are dangerous. If someone is only danger behind the wheel, then the solution is to prevent them from driving. In this case the penalty should have been a lifetime license revocation. Anyone caught driving without a license should have their vehicle seized and auctioned off. The idea is if you kill or seriously injure someone due to negligence, recklessness, or incompetence, your driving days are over, period.

    There could also be financial penalties, although without a source of income it’s difficult to see how all that much would be collected.

    Anyway, I kind of agree here. Legally, it’s much easier to just revoke someone’s driving privileges for good than incarcerate them. It would also have more public support. I feel in the long term it could even help the livable streets movement. Eventually under a set of mandatory license revocation rules a large percentage of the population would never be allowed to drive again. This would be a captive audience for cycling or mass transit. With fewer motor vehicles on the roads, it will be much easier to make them safe for vulnerable users.

  • walks bikes drives

    I am very confused. I have been trying so hard to find, in our traffic laws, which make our system, where it requires a cab driver to kill a kid. And why are there 60,000+ other TLC drivers that keep breaking the rules and are NOT killing kids? I mean, “the problem is the system that requires the driver to act as he did.”

  • Maggie

    Yup, +1000. I have no idea what country is on Komlani’s passport, but why should this matter? He killed a kid on the streets of New York City; he’s subject to the exact same laws and legislation as anyone else who killed a kid here.

    No one questioned whether he was hard-working, but when you’ve killed a kid, that becomes pretty irrelevant.

  • lop
  • r

    “Would someone cognizant of the law explain to this layman why he was not charged with, say vehicular manslaughter?”

    One would think Cy Vance could explain it to you, but I guess not.

  • neroden

    Cy Vance approves of motorists killing innocent pedestrians. There is no other possible conclusion.

    Unfortunately, under current legal precedent, district attorneys literally have the power to get away with murder. If Cy Vance personally went on a killing spree with a machine gun in Manhattan, he could simply “decide not to prosecute” himself. (Obviously this is a very bad set of precedents, but that’s the state of our corrupt “legal system” these days.) The only option I see to get justice is to fire his ass at the next election.

  • neroden

    Yes, absolutely. In particular, it is quite common for killer motorists to be driving without a license. How do we stop them?

    Only way I can think of is to lock them in a cage where they have no access to their murder weapon of choice (the auto). In short, this is exactly what prison was invented for.

  • neroden

    Only way to get jail time is to remove Cy Vance (who supports killing people) from the DA’s office.

    Since there are five elected DAs in NY, you have to go through this separately for all five boroughs. The new Brooklyn DA may be OK; it’s not clear yet. It seems quite clear that Cy Vance in Manhattan is simply in favor of killing people without consquences. I haven’t looked into the other three DAs.

    I think the ads against Cy Vance (“Cy Vance lets killers walk free”) would write themselves. I suppose the problem is paying for ads in the expensive Manhattan media market.

  • armyvet05

    It’s not so much the laws, but case law precedent and prosecutorial discretion. Short answer: Elect a different DA.

  • armyvet05

    Because people with revoked licenses still drive anyway. People in prison do not drive. If people who don’t pay attention when they are driving had the specter of prison time over their heads, they might actually be better drivers, and make better choices while driving.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG