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Chin Joins Victims’ Families to Blast Lax Enforcement of Street Safety Law

Michael Cheung speaks about his mother, who was killed in a Canal Street crosswalk by a driver last month. No charges have been filed against the driver. Photo: Margaret Chin/Twitter
Michael Cheung speaks about his mother, 90-year-old Sau Ying Lee, who was killed in a Canal Street crosswalk by a driver last month. No charges were filed. Photo: Margaret Chin/Twitter
Michael Cheung speaks about his mother, who was killed in a Canal Street crosswalk by a driver last month. No charges have been filed against the driver. Photo: Margaret Chin/Twitter

Drivers have killed four pedestrians in and around Chinatown since late August. Despite a new law on the books that could be applied in some of these cases, NYPD and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance have not filed charges against the drivers. Yesterday, Council Member Margaret Chin gathered with victims' families and community board leaders to demand justice. Chin also announced legislation calling on DOT to study street safety on busy truck routes like Canal Street.

Last month, a driver killed 90-year-old Sau Ying Lee in the crosswalk on Canal Street at Elizabeth Street. No charges have been filed against the driver. "My mom had the right of the way when she was crossing the street. According to the police report, my mom needed only two more steps and she could finish crossing," said Michael Cheung, Lee's son. "New York City law says, 'Okay, the driver’s not drunk, he’s not under any drug influence. Goodbye. Go and kill another pedestrian.' That’s the message New York City is sending to the driver."

Chin pointed to lax enforcement of the Right of Way Law, also known as Section 19-190, which allows for criminal penalties against drivers who strike pedestrians or cyclists with the right of way. “We need to see the law being strongly enforced against drivers who hit pedestrians in the crosswalk," Chin said. "At the very least, they should have been held accountable under that clear and simple law."

NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan has said the department is training all officers, not just crash investigators, to enforce the Right of Way Law, but there is no word on when that process will be complete. So far, enforcement of the law has been inconsistent.

In September, 82-year-old Sui Leung was crossing Elizabeth Street at Kenmare Street. She was in the crosswalk, with the light, when a van driver turned left from Kenmare and killed her. Although a quick site visit clearly showed that Leung had the right of way, NYPD said after the crash that it did not know whether that was the case. No charges have been filed against the driver, and NYPD continues to search for witnesses.

Attorney Steve Vaccaro expressed outrage at Chin's press conference that police remain unclear on the rules of the road. “There’s confusion on this point?" he asked. "Too many police police officers and too many prosecutors don’t understand that these are matters that need to be punished."

Vaccaro spoke yesterday along with his client, Hsi-Pei Liao, whose 3-year-old daughter Allison was killed last year by a turning driver while holding her grandmother's hand in the crosswalk in Flushing. Allison was killed before the Right of Way Law went into effect, and the driver only received two tickets, for failure to yield and failure to exercise due care. Last week, Liao and his wife found out that the state Department of Motor Vehicles dismissed those tickets.

With help from Congresswoman Grace Meng, the couple is setting up a meeting with DMV Commissioner Barbara Fiala to review the case and ask why the family wasn't notified of the DMV court date. The driver, Ahmad Abu-Zayedeha, has another DMV hearing on January 6. “We’re going to go in and try and question DMV about this process," Vaccaro said. “If they are going to let a driver go, they should know that someone got killed. Did they even know that this was a fatal crash? It doesn’t say that on the traffic tickets.”

“We need to call for the NYPD, the district attorney and the DMV to please work with us, especially with the families who have lost loved ones," Liao said. "Because without them, Vision Zero would not happen."

In addition to Leung and Lee's deaths, two other pedestrians were killed in Chin's district recently: Shu Fan Huang, 82, was struck while crossing South Street in August, and an unidentified 59-year-old man was killed by the driver of a private trash truck on Canal Street in October.

Chin will be introducing a council resolution calling on DOT to study street safety on truck routes and potential changes to those routes. “For Lower Manhattan, we all know what the problem is," she said. "People avoiding tolls. So they come through this way. There’s no toll on this bridge."

I asked Chin if she is calling on the de Blasio administration and Albany to support toll reform. She didn't offer a full-throated endorsement of the Move New York plan, but was adamant that the current toll structure, in which truck drivers get a free eastbound ride on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and a free westbound ride across her district, isn't working.

“We really need to present something that’s comprehensive," she said. "It's been a problem for the last 20-some years."

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