Vance Deal: $400 Fine for Unlicensed Driver Who Killed Senior in Crosswalk

An unlicensed driver who fatally struck a senior as she crossed the street with the right of way will pay a $400 fine, pursuant to a plea arrangement with Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance.

NYPD and Manhattan DA Cy Vance declined to charge an unlicensed motorist for causing the death of a senior who was crossing the street with the right of way. The driver was fined $400 for driving without a license. Photo: Brad Aaron
NYPD and Manhattan DA Cy Vance declined to charge an unlicensed motorist for causing the death of a senior who was crossing the street with the right of way. The driver was fined $400 for driving without a license. Photo: Brad Aaron

Keiko Ohnishi was walking with a cane across Madison Avenue at E. 98th Street on September 4 at around 9:47 a.m. when Kristin Rodriguez, 25, drove a minivan into her while making a left turn from E. 98th onto Madison, according to NYPD and the Post.

“[The van] hit her and she [flew] up and back down and he kept on going with her under him,” witness Tracy Molloy told the Post. “He was trying to make the light like every New York City driver.”

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

Ohnishi, 66, was admitted to Mount Sinai Hospital in critical condition. She died from her injuries. Streetsblog was made aware of her death via the NYPD monthly crash data report and WNYC’s Mean Streets project.

Rodriguez, whose van had North Carolina plates, was summonsed for failure to yield and charged with third degree aggravated unlicensed operation, according to the Post and court records. Court records indicate he was not charged under city code Section 19-190, known as the Right of Way Law, which as of August makes it a misdemeanor to strike a pedestrian or cyclist who has the right of way. NYPD and Vance did not upgrade charges against Rodriguez after Ohnishi died.

Aggravated unlicensed operation is an unclassified misdemeanor, the lowest level misdemeanor category. It is seemingly the default charge against unlicensed drivers who kill New York City pedestrians, and is 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 a Fordham Law School event in November, Vance said he is prevented from prosecuting drivers who kill in cases that “may not have the facts to support a criminal prosecution and conviction.” For this crash and others like it, however, the Vance team clearly had enough evidence to bring a criminal case, yet declined to charge an unlicensed motorist who failed to yield for taking a life. Since the driver was charged with unlicensed driving and failure to yield, this case also seems to satisfy the so-called “rule of two.”

On Wednesday, Rodriguez, who was free on $1,000 bond, pled guilty and was sentenced to a $400 fine and $88 in fees, court records say. There is no indication that the court took action against his driver’s license. Rodriguez is scheduled to pay his fine in March.

  • Kima Bee

    Your hyperbole is breathtaking. Nice try.

  • neroden

    That’s pretty awesome. Streetsblog editors, do you think maybe a reporter could do a little investigation and write a guest post with this “how do do it right” example?

  • neroden

    In fact, Peter, no competent driver would have committed manslaugher with his car. The fact that this killer had already had his license suspended *because he didn’t know how to drive* and proceeded to drive *anyway* shows reckless and depraved indifference to human life.

    The only way to protect the citizens of New York from this reckless and depraved killer is to lock him up. We already told him to stop driving cars (by suspending his license), and he kept driving cars anyway, and killing people as a result. There’s only one way to stop this behavior, which is to make it *impossible* for him to drive cars. It’s not punishment.

  • neroden

    No, this DA is clearly as corrupt as they come. If we had a functioning system, the Attorney General would be bringing Vance up on corruption charges. His behavior cannot be explained by anything but corruption.

  • neroden

    Vance is exactly the point.

  • neroden

    We now know the mistake made by the murderer who killed two NYC cops recently. He should have just smashed into them with a car. “Just an accident”.

  • neroden

    You have five DAs in NYC, one for each borough.

    The Brooklyn DA has been problematic, but shows signs of maybe, just maybe, being willing to change.

    The Manhattan DA is, of course, Vance. The Staten Island DA is the one who supports murderous cops. The Bronx DA also lets drivers get away with manslaughter, even with fleeing the scene.

    I have heard very little about the Queens DA, but I have no reason to think he’s any better.

  • Maggie

    Streetsblog and Families for Safe Streets are the best ones I know. I totally agree, we need more outspoken pressure and public awareness on behalf of the victims. It’s a little absurd that NYT can publish an article on the “risk” of being a pedestrian with a phone, when so many of those killed in the crosswalks are age 60, 70, 80 and up.

    Final jaded thought: DOT could’ve just kept up all the old Don’t Honk – $350 Penalty signs, and just pasted over them with a Don’t Inflict Life-Ending Injury on Person in Crosswalk – $400 Fine* (*Unlicensed Drivers Only)

  • Maggie

    The thing that really gets me: let’s say you’re Cy Vance. You’re looking for “winnable” cases to prosecute. How could you ask for a better ‘test case’ to stand up for the innocent than this one? Unlicensed driver. Senior citizen walking in the crosswalk. With the light. With a cane! Multiple eyewitnesses that the unlicensed driver plowed into her in broad daylight. The fact that Cy Vance would plead this innocent woman’s death down to a gut-wrenching $400 and not even apply the right-of-way law, I really can hardly believe it.

  • Guest

    Isn’t this now a misdemeanor? I mean, failing to yield to a pedestrian should have a $400 penalty WITHOUT anyone getting killed. Shouldn’t there at least be a required driver’s ed course and re-testing before sending the driver back onto the road?

  • Miles Bader

    I wonder, what’s the most that Vance could be charged with, if it were found that he was intentionally shirking his duty, protecting certain classes of people for personal reasons…?

  • Miles Bader

    The NYT (and others) fixate on things like pedestrians with cellphones because it’s a way of shifting blame onto the victims, and away from drivers. Unfortunately NYT decision makers, as with so many others in positions of power, seem to be drivers themselves….

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