Dana Lerner: Cy Vance Botched the Token Case Against My Son’s Killer

The cab driver who killed Cooper Stock is scheduled to be back in court in two months, thanks to what Stock’s mother Dana Lerner termed “inept” handling of the case by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s office.

Meanwhile, Koffi Komlani’s apparent defense — that weather was to blame for the crash — is the same excuse Manhattan prosecutors gave Lerner for not pursuing a criminal case.

Cooper Stock
Cooper Stock

Komlani went before a judge this morning to answer a summons for careless driving, the only charge issued to him after the January crash. Though Komlani hit both Cooper and his father, Richard Stock, as they crossed an Upper West Side street in the crosswalk with the right of way, Vance filed no criminal charges.

Today prosecutors added a summons for failure to yield. Komlani is fighting the tickets, so the case was continued. By the time Komlani is back in court to contest the two traffic summonses, it will have been 13 months since the crash.

Lerner released a statement today, via Transportation Alternatives:

Obviously a failure to yield violation should have been issued to the driver who killed my son, Cooper. It is unbelievable that the ticket was not presented to the driver at the scene when he killed Cooper. My persistence has led to heightened attention to the need for justice in this case — it should not be up to the loved ones of victims to ensure that the justice system does its job. Now my family must endure even more heartache as we wait for February when the driver will be in court again related to this long-overdue charge. Both the NYPD and the district attorney, at the very least, owe me a public explanation for this wrong-doing.

“They’re just so inept,” Lerner told the Post, referring to Vance’s office.

Careless driving carries a maximum penalty of up to 15 days in jail, a fine of up to $750, a license suspension of up to six months, and a drivers’ ed course. The minimum is no penalty. Outside the courtroom, Komlani’s attorney Raymond Colon said Vance has offered Komlani a license suspension and a fine.

Colon said there is video of the crash, but neither he nor Komlani have seen it. “It was dark,” Colon said. “The weather may have been a little inclement, and there may have been a lot of traffic.”

Lerner told Streetsblog during an interview last summer that, in one of their early meetings, a Vance ADA said it would be difficult to make a case against Komlani because “it was raining” at the time of the crash.

  • frustrated

    In NYC, murder is legal if done with a car or a badge.

  • com63

    “It was dark and it was raining.” Perfect excuses for running over a pedestrian in the crosswalk. Let’s hope there isn’t a plea and let’s hope a judge actually listens to the case.

  • qrt145

    Really? So rain is a license to crash at will? I thought it was the responsibility of the driver to be in control of the vehicle and adjust appropriately to weather conditions, whether they be rain, snow, or ice.

    I might make an exception for meteorite strikes. Getting hit by large extraterrestrial rocks at terminal velocity can seriously make you lose control of your vehicle.

  • Parent

    If “it was raining” means drivers can kill without consequence, then it’s on Mayor de Blasio to severely restrict driving during inclement weather. Who will protect New Yokr City’s children from Cy Vance’s interpretation of the law?

  • Mark Walker

    That’s got to be some special kind of magic rain, the kind with selective powers of concealment. It is claimed that the rain prevented Komlani from seeing the man and boy in the crosswalk, yet the driver of the car behind him saw them perfectly well. From the Daily News: “Ramon Gonzalez was driving just behind the yellow cab as it turned left off 97th St. onto West End Ave. about 9:05 p.m. Friday and saw young Cooper Stock in the crosswalk holding hands with his dad. The oblivious cabbie, Koffi Komlani, slammed right into the boy and his father, Gonzalez said. Komlani was issued a summons for failure to yield to pedestrians. ‘He had to be distracted because there’s no way he could not see them, if I did,’ Gonzalez, 46, said…” Did Vance’s office ever interview this witness? Even after his story hit the papers?

  • It’s amazing how many excuses drivers create for other drivers to explain their inability to drive safely/drive the speed limit/drive without distraction. Rain? Seriously?? The problem is even IF rain really was a factor, it is a driver’s responsibility to drive with caution. We need laws and prosecutors that protect the vulnerable, not excuses that protect those who fail to use proper care behind the wheel. The fact that the driver didn’t use that care in a rainy situation should tell society he is unfit to drive again.

  • Joe R.

    Making excuses for drivers is merely an unintended result of the idea that everyone should drive. The hard fact is upwards of 75% of the population lacks the ability to safely drive a motor vehicle due to some combination of poor reflexes, poor judgement, lack of intelligence, age, illness, poor eyesight/hearing, etc. These are people who inherently can never safely drive, regardless of the amount of training, due to their abilities not matching those needed. The remainder in theory can safely drive, but only with requisite training. Because we insist on putting incompetents behind the wheel based on the flawed idea that everyone should drive, sooner or later many of these people will screw up. Not even their fault in the strict sense, but rather society’s fault for letting them drive in the first place. Nevertheless, because of this we have to excuse the inevitable outcome of allowing so many people to drive who can’t.

    That in a nutshell is why we might say the weather is a factor. It really isn’t, or shouldn’t be, but it supplies a ready excuse to not punish someone. In the end, maybe there shouldn’t be punishment because quite a few drivers who kill or injure don’t do it on purpose. They do it because their skill set wasn’t good enough to avoid doing so. They were set up to fail by a society which told them they can drive when they really can’t. What we should do instead is to correct this mistake. Start by making it much harder for new drivers to get a license in the first place. Consider eventually retesting existing drivers to this higher standard. When drivers injure or kill though neglect, recklessness, or incompetence, revoke their license for good. No better proof is needed that you’re unfit to drive than killing or seriously injuring someone. Do the same thing if you’re at fault in a certain number of collisions, even if no injuries occur. Repeatedly being the cause of collisions is proof you can’t drive. Finally, society needs to get over the idea that everyone can drive. They can’t. Because they can’t, alternatives need to be provided.

  • Brad Aaron

    The full story of how Vance handled this case will soon be told.

  • Robert Wright

    The moment one thinks about it for any length of time, it becomes clear that Vance’s reason is actually the opposite of what it should be. If it was raining, the driver should have been paying extra attention and driving extra-cautiously, because the conditions presented extra dangers. The rain, it seems to me, makes his behavior more blameworthy, not less.

  • JudenChino

    Why isn’t it negligent homicide? He breached his duty of care, which was the proximate cause for the foreseeable harm that was caused.

  • JamesR

    Right there’s that, but also the absence of any kind of real safety regime that has the ability to keep drivers from being on the road when they shouldn’t be.

    Think of something like airline pilots in dangerous conditions – if there is, say, a hurricane, air traffic control can ground all aircraft. Those pilots will not be able to operate their vehicles until ATC gives their approval. And these are vehicles operated by trained professionals! No such regime exists for cars, driven by amateurs who may lack the proper judgment to stay off the road in the event of heavy rain, winter weather, or other dangerous conditions.

  • Maggie

    Yup. Within the last two weeks on Streetsblog, I’ve seen warnings that people shouldn’t be so quick to “blame” drivers for hitting pedestrians in the crosswalk when the sun is shining, and now when it’s raining. In a city chock-full of pedestrians, cyclists, seniors, and strollers, it’s amazing how far people bend over backward to excuse shitty driving.

  • the_local_guy

    As others have said, blaming the weather is just another lame excuse. There have been plenty of incidents where it was clear and sunny, and still no justice for the victim. The real problem is the DA refuses to do his job!!!! We are sick of the excuses, Vance — you are not fooling anyone!

  • Anandakos

    The weather “may have been a little inclement”. “There may have been a lot of traffic”. Two more reasons why the driver was negligent. How hard is that to understand?

  • Anandakos

    The dude is on the drivers’ team. What else do you expect?
    Another kid dead? Collateral damage from the “war on cars”. If there weren’t so many road diets, bus bulbs and flashing cross-walks, people could get where they’re going! in a short time and then they’d doubtless be more alert!
    So, you see, it was actually the city planning department’s fault, not the driver’s. Easy-peasy.

  • neroden

    Good. But the $64,000 question: who’s gonna be running against Vance in the next election?

    Running on a platform of prosecuting murderous cops and prosecuting killer drivers… frankly the ads seem to write themselves. But they need a good candidate to go with…

  • Remember: If this happened while the driver was doing a test lap around the island, the DA would have pursued felony charges with decades of jail time

    But because he was just in a negligent rush, Vance’s office is doing the bare minimum, which they might not have done at all if Cooper had no living relatives or contacts to hound their office

  • petercow

    We all know what happened. Komlani already his focus down West End Ave., looking for a fare. His focus wasn’t on where he was at that moment – but rather, where he wanted to be.

  • Andrew

    According to the Post article:

    “The conditions were dark that night,” claimed his lawyer, Raymond Colon, who said his client didn’t see the Stocks.

    As opposed to any other night?

  • andrelot

    Your assertion that 75% of the population couldn’t ever possibly drive is bigoted (fit your “driving-is-worse-than-enriching-uranium” agenda), and lacks any sort of reliable information. It also ignores the role of training, and the role of enhanced safety features on cars, present and those under development as we speak.

  • Joe R.

    The “safety features” you speak of are mostly designed to mitigate the results of a crash, not to prevent one! A lot of the other ones, like anti-lock brakes, end up losing their efficacy preventing a crash because drivers just end up following more closely, or waiting longer before they start braking.

    My 75% figure is based on a combination of things. One is my observation of drivers while biking or walking. Most of them suck, for lack of a better word. If there was any value in training or practice, then most drivers would be pretty decent at it after driving a few years. My observations tell me otherwise.

    And then you have the general levels of coordination, reflexes, spatial judgement, and intelligence. You need a certain amount of all of these to safely pilot a motor vehicle. I don’t care how easy cars are to drive or how forgiving we make roads as none of that matters when a driver is faced with a sudden life or death situation. At that point is where all those other things I mentioned come into play. They make the difference between having a collision and not having a collision. Sadly, most people are severely lacking in one or more of those areas. Being able to keep a car on the road under ideal conditions doesn’t mean squat because that’s not when collisions occur. It’s under adverse conditions which can’t be so easily engineered away.

    The casual attitude most people take towards driving only adds to the danger. Bad enough most people can’t drive well even giving it their full attention. It gets worse when they think they can do something else while driving, like talk on the phone. Driving well isn’t inherently easy. I think of the workload when riding my bike as a point of comparison. I’m an Ivy League graduate, have an IQ of at least 140, and yet it sometimes taxes me mentally and physically just to stay safe while riding. There are just so many variables you need to be aware of. I can’t imagine a person of average intelligence taking account of what they need to while driving.

    Finally, you have results which speak for themselves. 35,000 deaths and 3.8 million injuries a year ( http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/In-Gear/2014/0215/Estimated-35-200-US-traffic-deaths-reported-in-2013 ) wouldn’t be happening if people were so great at driving. Indeed, if any other mode of transportation but cars had carnage at this level the NTSB would shut it down until it could be fixed.

    By the way, I’m actually being charitable with my 75% figure. I think if we really had driver’s training which addresses all the things I mention, you would be lucky if 10% of the population would be able to drive.

    I can’t wait for self-driving cars. That’s the only “safety” feature which has any value as far as I’m concerned. It’s evident to me humans just aren’t up to the task. Even those who might drive well if they applied themselves mostly seem to have no interest in getting better.

  • Bolwerk

    He’s wrong. It’s really 100% under current circumstances.

    Car usage has a niche where it is sensible and useful, but oodles of cars in a sea of other users? Even the best drivers make mistakes, and the first two quartiles of drivers just make more than the third. There is no way to make it 100% safe, and making risk minuscule requires separating cars and people.

  • ralph

    “It was raining.” So, rain = I can kill you and it’s not my fault.

    What excuses will Vance come up with next? “He was drunk?”

  • J

    If you want to drive like a maniac, make sure it’s raining, cause then you’re no longer responsible for your actions, even if they kill.

  • Anon resident

    Vance’s ADA’s community partnership office & communications office is a disaster. The lack of communications from Vance’s office is pathetic.

  • JoshNY

    More to the point, the safety features are great for protecting people in the car but do little for those outside.

  • Anandakos

    I agree that it requires separating cars and people. Unfortunately the autoistas interpret “separating cars and people” as meaning that people must not even cross the street.

    Seriously, in Seattle there are morons who advocate that people not be allowed to cross arterials on foot except where there are pedestrian bridges.

    Feet were here before rubber tires.

  • Anandakos

    Unfortunately nobody will mention “murderous cops”. Count on it.

  • Nathanael

    That just means you have nobody willing to run for office.

    The general population is really, really angry about murderous cops. It’s a campaign-winning platform. Count on it. But you need an actual candidate.

  • Nathanael

    Should be easy to win an election against Vance, then, right?

    After all, Vance lets killers roam free to kill again. The ads write themselves.

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Cy Vance: $580 Fine for Driver Who Killed 9-Year-Old Cooper Stock

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In separate stories published yesterday, family members of Marilyn Dershowitz and Cooper Stock, both lost to traffic violence, criticized Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance for his reluctance to file serious charges against motorists who kill people. Vance declined to apply criminal charges against Koffi Komlani, the cab driver who struck 9-year-old Cooper and his father as the two walked hand […]