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Senior Struck By Unlicensed Driver in UES Crosswalk Has Died

Keiko Ohnishi was hit in a crosswalk by an accused unlicensed driver. The driver was charged with unlicensed operation and failure to yield but was not charged under the city's new Right of Way Law. Image: Google Maps
Keiko Ohnishi was hit in a crosswalk by a driver who was charged with unlicensed operation and failure to yield but was not charged under the city's new Right of Way Law. Image: Google Maps
Keiko Ohnishi was hit in a crosswalk by an accused unlicensed driver. The driver was charged with unlicensed operation and failure to yield but was not charged under the city's new Right of Way Law. Image: Google Maps

A senior struck by an allegedly unlicensed motorist in an Upper East Side crosswalk this September has died from her injuries, according to NYPD's monthly traffic crash report and WNYC's Mean Streets project. Though the driver was ticketed for failure to yield, he was not charged under the new Vision Zero law that makes it a crime for motorists to harm pedestrians who have the right of way.

At around 9:47 on the morning of September 4, Kristin Rodriguez, 25, drove a minivan into 66-year-old Keiko Ohnishi as she walked with a cane across Madison Avenue at E. 98th Street, near Mount Sinai Hospital, the Daily News reported.

From the Post:

“[The van] hit her and she [flew] up and back down and he kept on going with her under him,” said Tracy Molloy, 39, who was waiting for the bus when she saw the horrific accident.

“He was trying to make the light like every New York City driver,” she said.

“He drove completely over her, over her legs. He must have felt the bump and heard people scream so he stopped,” said another witness Neud Clermont. “Blood was coming out of her ears.

“I walked over and started to pull her dress down, and the driver was panicking. He was like, ‘Oh my god, I didn’t see you!’” said Clermont.

Ohnishi was admitted to Mount Sinai in critical condition. She succumbed to her injuries, NYPD confirmed.

Rodriguez, whose van reportedly had North Carolina plates, was summonsed for failure to yield and charged with third degree aggravated unlicensed operation, according to NYPD and court records. He was not charged under city code Section 19-190, known as the Right of Way Law, which made it a misdemeanor to strike a pedestrian or cyclist who has the right of way. The law was adopted as part of a package of Vision Zero legislation intended to reduce traffic injuries and deaths.

Since it took effect in August, however, NYPD and city district attorneys are known to have applied the Right of Way Law only a handful of times. In late October -- more than two months after police were supposed to begin enforcing the law -- NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan told Streetsblog the department was "in the process" of training precinct officers on how to apply it. Streetsblog filed a freedom of information request for more information on the training process.

Aggravated unlicensed operation is seemingly the default charge against unlicensed drivers who kill New York City pedestrians. It’s also applied when unlicensed drivers commit non-criminal traffic infractions. Third degree aggravated unlicensed operation carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Drivers who plead guilty are normally fined with no jail time. At least one city DA, Brooklyn's Ken Thompson, has cut the $500 fine in half for a motorist who killed someone.

In September, drivers killed at least four pedestrians, including Ohnishi, who appear to have had the right of way, based on published accounts. Streetsblog has asked NYPD if charges were filed in the other three cases.

Kristin Rodriguez is next scheduled to appear in court in December.

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