NY State DMV Dismisses Tickets of Driver Who Killed Allie Liao [Updated]

The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles dismissed summonses for failure to yield and careless driving issued to the driver who killed 3-year-old Allison Liao in 2013. Image via ##https://twitter.com/KeeganNYC/status/530515713405231105##@KeeganNYC##
The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles dismissed summonses for failure to yield and careless driving issued to the driver who killed 3-year-old Allison Liao in 2013. Image via @KeeganNYC

Update: Streetsblog has filed a freedom of information request for documents related to the DMV’s dismissal of tickets issued by NYPD to Ahmad Abu-Zayedeh.

An administrative law judge with the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles threw out tickets issued by NYPD to the driver who ran over 3-year-old Allison Liao as she and her grandmother walked hand in hand in a Queens crosswalk.

The driver, identified by police as 44-year-old Ahmad Abu-Zayedeh, was turning left from Cherry Avenue onto Main Street in Flushing when he hit Allison on the afternoon of October 6, 2013. Though NYPD and the media initially said Allison “broke free” from her grandmother, video of the crash showed the pair walking together as Abu-Zayedeh approached from behind, striking Allison and pulling her underneath the SUV.

Abu-Zayedeh was summonsed for failure to yield and failure to exercise due care. Neither NYPD nor Queens District Attorney Richard Brown filed criminal charges against him for striking Allison. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Brown described the accident as a ‘tragedy’ and said he wouldn’t bring charges.”

On Thursday Allison’s parents, Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao, learned that the DMV dismissed both tickets. The revelation came during a deposition of Abu-Zayedeh, according to attorney Steve Vaccaro, who is representing Tam and Liao in a civil suit. Allison’s family was not contacted by the DMV.

Streetsblog has reported before that, at least in some cases, the DMV adjudication process relies mainly on testimony from drivers involved in fatal crashes, not police reports or other evidence.


Update:
Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, released the following statement:

This is an outrageous injustice to the family of Allison Liao, and to all New Yorkers.

The two summonses were already a mere slap on the wrist for the driver who failed to yield and killed Allison Liao when she was in the crosswalk with the light, hand-in-hand with her grandmother. Now the State Department of Motor Vehicles has decided the deadly driver who muscled his way through that crosswalk doesn’t even deserve such a paltry sanction.

DMV Commissioner Barbara Fiala herself recently received a speeding ticket near her home in Broome County, just days after her son pleaded guilty to drunken driving after hitting a bicyclist. We call on Governor Cuomo to relieve Fiala of her duty and replace her with a safety-minded reformer.

Fiala pled not guilty to going 47 miles per hour in a 30 mph zone in the town of Vestal last month, according to TV station WBNG. In early October her son was charged with DWI after he injured a cyclist and left the crash scene, the Albany Times Union reported.

Update: The DMV has released a statement. Via Gothamist:

The summonses that were issued by law enforcement to Ahmad Abu-Zayedeha as a result of an accident on October 6, 2013 were for “Failing to Use Due Care” and “Failing to Yield to a Pedestrian.” If a person is found guilty of those violations, the penalty is a fine of up to $150.00 for each violation. Mr. Abu-Zayedeha was found not guilty and those tickets were dismissed on July 1, 2014. No criminal charges were brought by the Queens District Attorney as a result of the accident. However, whenever a fatal accident occurs anywhere in the state, the DMV schedules a special safety hearing. That hearing for Mr. Abu-Zayedeha has been set for January 6. At that time, a determination will be made if Mr. Abu-Zayedeha has any culpability for the accident on October 6 that would result in any action being taken with regard to his driver license based on the Vehicle and Traffic law. DMV is an administrative agency and has no authority with regard to law enforcement or criminal prosecution.

Update: U.S. Representative Grace Meng, of Queens, issued the following statement late this afternoon:

After watching the video of this tragedy, I find the decision to dismiss these tickets very troubling. As the mother of young children, I cannot imagine what the Liaos went through last year, and I cannot imagine what they’re going through now. This accident was a horrible tragedy and the driver must be held accountable. I will write to the State DMV about this matter.

  • CC1

    I think street protests including civil disobedience are approriate responses to this. Advocacy will only get us so far, too many people are being slaughtered with too little or no consequences for the perpetrators. I am prepared to be arrested as part of organized protests. Let’s do this!

  • Eric McClure

    Man, I’ve just got nothing to add. Heartbreaking and infuriating.

  • David Souther

    Get crowds of people on a busy intersection. When the light turns, walk into the intersection. Remain in the intersection until the flashing pedestrian sign starts. Repeat for the cross street.

  • ahwr

    Maybe he contested them to help him in the ongoing civil case.

  • I have a feeling this one is not going away until there is at least a demonstration or action by activists. I think there will be plenty of follow up posts.

  • Joe R.

    Here’s an idea-add deaths caused by motor vehicles to the city’s official homicide statistics. Compstat and other measures would compel the police to act in such a manner as to reduce those deaths.

    On another note, it defies belief how a motorist caught red-handed on video killing someone by failing to yield can get off without even a fine. At the very least his license should have been revoked permanently, and he should have been deported to whatever country he came from, hopefully to face their brand of justice.

  • Joe R.

    When people get fed up enough with this (and it will happen eventually), you’ll get crowds pulling motorists like Ahmad Abu-Zayedeha from their vehicles and hanging them from the nearest convenient lamp post. Street justice to be sure, but vigilantism will garner the authorities into taking things like this a lot more seriously.

  • YC

    License to drive = license to kill

  • Al O

    Doesn’t change the fact that Ahmad Abu-Zayedeha is a murderer. I just wonder, after running down and killing a child legally crossing in a crosswalk, what kind of fix he had in (threats? bribery? official influence?) to beat this charge in a hearing system where the conviction rate is normally 90+%

    Unfortunately, if the justice system continues to fail us, then other means of justice will be the sad and tragic result. I would certainly prefer not to see vigilantism or “”street justice” take hold, but when the law fails at even the most minimal protection then that is what will inevitably happen. I don’t know why our politicians and our knee-jerk driver protecting police and prosecutors seemingly don’t see it coming..

  • Animal_Poet

    I hope that an enterprising private citizen will render Ahmad Abu-Zayedeha what he has earned. I hope that that that private citizen is never identified.

  • Animal_Poet

    I like this. We already live in a police state. What’s the harm in adding a little vigilantism, since the police and special-interest whores have no interest in other than their own power and riches.

  • Kevin Love

    Better yet, if said private citizen is publicly exonerated by a jury of his peers. That would send a clear message to car drivers.

  • Lora Tenenbaum

    One of her reps was there.

  • LimestoneKid

    And if it turns out that he was born in America? What then?

  • Joe R.

    Deport him to Texas. They know what to do with murderers there.

  • LimestoneKid

    Mean like how they took care of Cameron Todd Willingham?

    http://camerontoddwillingham.com/

  • Joe R.

    Well, I don’t believe in the death penalty if there’s even a sliver of doubt you have the right person. In this case, there is none.

    That said, it wouldn’t surprise me if karma had its way here. Careless, selfish people like Ahmad Abu-Zayedeha will eventually piss off the wrong people.

  • Cold Shoaler

    I’m sure. I appreciate the importance of defending oneself within the adversarial system. But, I’m skeptical about how much of a difference this would actually make. I’m no expert, though. Either way, I still find it shameless. Well, I don’t ‘find it that way’, it is shameless. That a civil case is the survivors’ ONLY recourse is just pathetic.

  • Cold Shoaler

    I suppose they nor their children ever cross the street on foot.

  • Interceptor III

    A book of matches is regarded with greater severity than an SUV in the eyes of the law.

  • Guest

    The crime hasn’t actually expired under statute of limitations, has it? Could the DA still file charges, if he were convinced to actually, you know, do his job and seek justice?

  • Peter Vo

    That is so messed up. The video clearly showed him at fault for failing to yield to pedestrian, yet the DMV dismisses the case?

  • Ser Ponce

    Has there been any explanation for the DMV’s decision? If I’m reading their statement correctly, it just says that the tickets were dismissed but doesn’t say why they were dismissed. Anything from the DMV itself or from the civil case?

    Total uninformed conjecture here but: is it possible that the fact that there’s another hearing scheduled is part of the reason? Is there some sort of double jeopardy concern? That is, by dismissing these tickets there’s a possibility of more severe punishment in the next hearing, whereas if the tickets were sustained that would somehow affect the punishment available at the next hearing?

    I suspect this is completely wrong but would like to hear from an actual expert.

  • jooltman

    For direct comment:

    Barbara Fiala, Commissioner
    New York State Department of Motor Vehicles
    6 Empire State Plaza
    Albany, NY 12228
    518-474-0841

    Let’s flood her with reason and compassion. Be sure to cc: her boss, Gov. Cuomo.

  • dporpentine

    I’d like to hear from an actual expert too, but my presumption has been that it’s the opposite: that by dismissing these tickets, the question of culpability has already been settled. I mean, if you’re not guilty of doing anything wrong in leading to the death, how can you be guilty of the death?

    I’m also assuming that having the tickets dismissed is at least somewhat prejudicial to the civil case.

    That’s part of what’s so terrible about the current system: my understanding is that the police gave up on prosecuting traffic violence as a crime in part so it could be a civil process. But in addition to the many holes in the civil process itself (chiefly, the difficulty of extracting blood from the many reckless turnips that drive cars), the civil process can use the failure of criminal process to say, in essence, “This has already been investigated by the authorities and they didn’t find the teeniest bit of wrongdoing. So no civil penalties for you.”

  • Anna

    If you can, please take a few seconds to sign this petition and help keep NYC streets safe!

    http://www.change.org/p/jimmy-van-bramer-justice-for-allison-liao

  • Maggie

    I can’t find any compassion for Barbara Fiala. Governor Cuomo is a Queens native, with children of his own, who has claimed he cares enough to make tough decisions to keep New Yorkers safe. It’s mind-boggling to watch Cuomo, Queens DA Richard Brown, Bratton, and de Blasio all look the other way on this. Hope they will speak up.

  • Rebecca Lane

    What an appalling statement, Animal. Extra-judicial ‘justice’ is what happens in barbaric places.

  • discypherz

    Yes, you’re right because speaking up has helped so much right? This little girl got the justice she deserved right? Even after all these people speak up without violence, where is the justice, please explain.

  • vnm

    Even if Allison Liao had “broke free and ran unaccompanied into the path of Abu-Zayedeha’s vehicle” as false initial reports indicated, HOW WOULD THAT MAKE THIS OK? Don’t people have to take driver’s ed before getting a license? Anyone else remember the harsh intonation of the narrator who says that you have to be especially careful around schools and look out for children who may dart into the street after, say, a ball? IT IS IMPERATIVE TO THE DRIVER TO BE COGNIZANT OF HIS OR HER SURROUNDINGS.

  • Ser Ponce

    Sadly, I suspect you are right.

  • Animal_Poet

    O, and the USA is not a barbaric place???!!! Ha!

  • Anna

    We now have almost 700 signatures! Please share and keep them coming!

    https://www.change.org/p/eric-schneiderman-justice-for-allison-liao

  • allthedings

    First, I don’t understand why people are so mad at the DMV instead of the DA. Brown is the piece of shit who said Allison’s death wasn’t worth prosecuting. The NYPD and the DA conspired to make sure this driver — like nearly every driver involved in every pedestrian and cyclist death in this city — was never charged with anything.

    Sure, it’s bad that the DMV administrative law judge found the driver not guilty of the infractions on the two tickets, but so what? Even if the driver had been found guilty, that’s like $300 in fines, and that’s it. I suppose it might’ve helped a little with the civil case, but I think the video will probably carry the day there.

    The real question people need to ask is: why isn’t Queens DA, Richard Brown, now the subject of constant, merciless protest and questioning in this case? He’s the one with Allison’s blood on his hands. It’s fine to get mad at the ALJ at the DMV, but the crime here has been committed by the Queens DA, who is derelict in his duty, and perpetuating the policy of ensuring that no driver is ever prosecuted for killing any pedestrian or cyclist under any circumstances.

  • qrt145

    The DA reasonably concluded that, under our present laws, the case would be unwinnable because it would be impossible to prove a guilty state of mind. This was an incompetently executed left turn, but not criminal recklessness under our present laws (which I agree suck). That’s the other important difference between this case and the Afrodock case, besides embarrassing the police: that in Afroduck’s case it was easy to show intent.

    In contrast, traffic violations don’t require proof of a guilty state of mind, but only that the infraction occurred, and as such it falls in the realm of physics rather than mind-reading. The physics here clearly show that the violation occurred. That’s why it’s especially flabbergasting that the tickets were dismissed.

  • ENOUGHISENOUGH

    It’s out ragerous that the DA did not prosecute this case with such clear cut evidence. . I am willing to support any protest to overthrown this DA and investigate NYPD about this accident. HOW ON EARTH CA PEOPLE BE MOWED DOWN BY CARS ON THE green light CROSSING AND THE LAW ENFORCEMENT JUST ALLOW DRIVER WALK AWAY? Will any citizen take this insult from these incompetent DAS and NYPD?

  • SteveVaccaro

    I agree. I’d like to see District Attorneys taking a shot at prosecuting cases like this as reckless endangerment or reckless driving (misdemeanors), but judges have rewritten the laws to make prosecutions in cases like this difficult. In the meanwhile, ALJ’s and bureaucrats at DMV seem to be acting as if they are a redundant criminal court that must afford all the protections to a driver that a criminal defendant would receive. Removing a license in NOT a criminal sanction, and the standard for doing so does not have to comport with the stringent criminal procedure requirements. DMV’s mission is to err on the side of safety and protecting the public, and it is failing miserably.

  • Kevin Love

    That did not work for a certain O.J. Simpson.

  • allthedings

    Fair points, but 2 tickets and a $300 fine is almost more insulting than just throwing them out entirely. I know this will sound like very bad logic, but if the tickets had stuck, this case might have gone away very quietly, and the only penalty would’ve been $300 in fines. From a societal perspective, I’d almost rather the DMV dismiss the tickets and shine a light on the inability to truly prosecute a case like this. Maybe this will knock a little sense into the statehouse and they’ll pass better laws to criminalize such careless driving and protect 3-year old crossing the street with their grandmothers.

    All that said, I hear what you’re saying. I just think we might not be here now, discussing this case, if the driver had faced a $300 fine.

  • allthedings

    I wonder if the ALJ saw the video at all. But either way, we need to make the lawmakers to revise the statutes and make it a crime to kill someone through careless driving. I don’t want to get into a big thing about guns, but you have a similar problem there: dad leaves a gun out, kid picks it up and shoots himself, and the police and DA all say it’s a tragedy and no good would be served by prosecuting the dad for leaving the gun out. Of course some good would be served! People would know not to do that. And in cases like this, drivers need to understand there are consequences to not paying attention, killing someone, and lying about it after the fact. Not arguing with you; your points are valid. Just saying, the DMV killing the tickets may be the least infuriating this about this case full of infuriating things.

  • Amother

    I cannot hold back my tears when I saw the grandma picked up the poor kid. The poor girl was on crosswalk hand-in-hand with her grandma. I CANNOT believe how could this driver be sent free after his reckless driving killed a little child. HE KILLED A PERSON AND HE DIDN’T EVEN HAVE A TICKET?! HOW DARE HE LIED AND CLAIMED THE KID WAS ON THE LOOSE ALL BY HERSELF?? How could the DA, NYPD, DMV even let this happen WITH SUCH CLEAR EVIDENCE? WHERE IS JUSTICE?! WHAT KIND OF MESSAGE THE GOVERNMENT TRIES TO SEND TO THE PUBLIC?! ENCOURAGE RECKLESS DRIVING KILLING INNOCENT PEDESTRIANS? IF YOU KILL A PERSON IN QUEENS, DON’T WORRY! THE DA WILL LET YOU GO

  • Amother

    Dear Anna, I think you should also bring this video clip to other
    social media sites such as Youtube. Most
    people who do not live in NY are not aware of this tragedy and this is the first
    time I heard about it. If Liao’s family
    could post this video clip on Youtube, it will go viral quickly with all of us
    click on the video. This will generate
    more public awareness and give more pressure to the DA.

  • Sarah

    It’s now up to 8,745 signatures! Wait – it’s now 8,769, in the time it took me to sign. Excellent.

  • Alex_nma

    Two things TA should not bring up the commissioners son when trying to get rid of her. Focus on her actions not her families.

    This clearly shows that the DMV courts are there only to make money. They clearly say they have ” no authority with regard to law enforcement or criminal prosecution.” It’s time to get rid of these kangaroo courts that are stacked against motorists who commit minor offenses but do nothing against people who kill others.

  • Interceptor III

    I take your point about not mentioning her son’s drunk driving. She’s clearly not responsible for his actions. However, I think it does provide relevant context for her own (contested) speeding infraction. Commissioner Barbara Fiala is responsible for combating dangerous driving. (see her profile on the DMV web site for details: http://dmv.ny.gov/about-dmv/barbara-j-fiala). That she would be exceeding the posted limit by 17MPH soon after a member of her family was driving under the influence and left the scene of the crash that left a cyclist injured speaks volumes of her capacity to lead at the DMV. This isn’t about what kind of statements would be admissible in court. She’s a public figure whose Department is broken. “Gloves off” I say. Step up, or step down, Comm. Fiala.

  • Alex_nma

    I’m sorry, her son is 49! His actions should have no reflection on her. Her own stupid actions do reflect poorly on her.

  • Jack Chan

    where is the video? i can’t find it. they need to put it on youtube and show the whole world how incompetent NYC justice system is.

  • Jack Chan

    we want justice!

  • Tyson White

    Will someone please edit Fiala’s Wikipedia page?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_J._Fiala

    There’s no mention of her speeding violation, and I don’t know how to edit wiki pages.

  • andrewkewley

    Lobby for the law to be changed – mandatory jail time if you kill someone else on the roads and are found to be at fault.

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