Why Is NYPD Defending Hit-and-Run Drivers to the Press?

NYPD declined to speculate on whether a driver was speeding before a fatal hit-and-run crash, yet told the press the victim was jaywalking. Image: News 12

Update: The victim in the Rockaway Parkway crash was identified as Alex Davis, according to DNAinfo. Police said he was hit by the driver of a Ford Mustang. The driver remained at large as of November 7.

Hit-and-run drivers have killed two New York City pedestrians in the past week. After each crash NYPD sources either defended the motorist or blamed the victim in the press.

At approximately 9:30 p.m. last Thursday, the driver of a private sanitation truck ran over a 59-year-old man on Canal Street in Chinatown, according to NYPD. The man’s body was found near Centre Street, but police didn’t know where the collision occurred. NYPD had not released the victim’s name as of this morning, and no arrests had been made.

“It was not immediately clear if the driver was aware that a pedestrian had been hit, police said,” reported DNAinfo. To see justice done for this victim and his loved ones, this is a critical detail.

To secure a conviction against a hit-and-run driver in New York State, prosecutors must prove the motorist knew or had reason to know he hit someone, causing personal injury. Thanks to state laws that favor reckless drivers, when a New York motorist strikes a pedestrian and leaves the scene, “I didn’t see him” is not an admission of guilt, but a potent defense strategy. So in effect, NYPD has offered a preemptive defense for the motorist who claimed this person’s life.

In the second crash, a hit-and-run driver in a “dark-colored sedan” killed a 59-year-old man on Rockaway Parkway near Winthrop Avenue, in Brownsville, early Saturday. The victim’s identity is still being withheld pending family notification, NYPD said, and the driver remains at large.

Local residents told NY1 that speeding is rampant on the segment of Rockaway Parkway where Saturday’s crash occurred.

“If we were able to put a mid-block crosswalk and a light that split it right down the middle, tragedies like this wouldn’t happen because people would have an option to cross,” one area resident said.

“This intersection is never safe. It’s always somebody getting hit by a car. It’s always a child getting clipped by a car a vehicle. Everybody’s always speeding, not trying to stop at the lights. Everybody’s just in a rush,” another said.

The only detail reported consistently in the press, however, was that the victim was allegedly crossing mid-block. According to News 12, “Police say the man was not using the crosswalk when he was hit.”

Due in part to state laws that incentivize fleeing the scene, hit-and-run crashes are so prevalent that the City Council recently passed a bill attaching civil penalties to the crime, in hopes of deterring motorists from leaving injured and dying people in the street. Next summer NYPD will be required to report to the City Council on hit-and-run crashes and investigations. Council members overrode a veto from former Mayor Bloomberg to pass Intro 155 into law, after hearing from family members of crash victims whose killers were not caught.

According to Transportation Alternatives, of 60 fatal hit-and-runs investigated in 2012, NYPD arrested just 15 drivers. Attorney Steve Vaccaro says NYPD officers sometimes tell injured victims they will not include a perpetrator’s license plate number in a report, if it is known to police, unless the victim agrees to not pursue a criminal case. When a hit-and-run driver seriously injured cyclist Dulcie Canton in Bushwick earlier this year, and the victim herself collected evidence implicating a motorist who lived near the crash site, the detective assigned to the case said he didn’t have time to contact the car’s owner.

Eleven months into Vision Zero, has NYPD reformed the way it handles hit-and-run crashes? With an apparent lack of interest in working cases, and a habit of blaming victims in the media, available evidence suggests that hasn’t happened.

  • Sick of It

    Even if the victim was using the crosswalk, what difference would it make to the NYPD and Queens District Attorney? Based on current police practice, the driver would likely face nothing more than a $250 Failure to Yield summons.

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