DMV Judge Delays Action Against License of Driver Who Killed Allison Liao
An administrative law judge for the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles today deferred a decision concerning the driver’s license of the motorist who killed 3-year-old Allison Liao.
In a packed hearing room at a DMV office in Jamaica, Sidney Fuchs watched video that showed an SUV driven by Ahmad Abu-Zayedeh run over Allison as she and her grandmother, Chin Hua Liao, crossed Main Street in Flushing, in a crosswalk with a walk signal. And he heard from police investigators, including the officer who summonsed Abu-Zayedeh for failure to yield and careless driving.
“My entire family has been suffering heartbreaking pain,” said Chin Hua, who stopped several times to compose herself as she described the crash via a translator. “It’s better to revoke the driver’s driver’s license.”
Fuchs twice asked Abu-Zayedeh if he wished to testify on his own behalf and, through his attorney, Abu-Zayedeh twice declined to speak. Fuchs rejected a request from Abu-Zayedeh’s attorney to dismiss the video, which Abu-Zayedeh has refused to watch, on the grounds that the person who gave it to police was not at the hearing to vouch for its authenticity.
Fuchs refused to consider documentation offered by the Liao’s attorney, Steve Vaccaro, that Abu-Zayedeh had alcohol in his system an hour after the crash. According to a civil suit filed by Allison’s family, Abu-Zayedeh told police he had consumed two glasses of wine before the collision. He tested positive for alcohol in his bloodstream, the suit says, but his BAC was below the .08 legal limit for driving. “That would be an issue for some other forum,” said Fuchs. “I prefer not to go into that.”
Fuchs also refused to allow the admission of Abu-Zayedeh’s New Jersey driving record, which Vaccaro said “demonstrates numerous violations,” and indicates that Abu-Zayedeh once surrendered his driver’s license.
“I do have my exhibits and evidence,” said Fuchs at the conclusion of the hour-long hearing. “I’ve heard the testimony. I will reserve decision.”
Abu-Zayedeh killed Allison on October 6, 2013. Though police concluded that Allison and Chin Hua had the right of way, neither NYPD nor Queens District Attorney Richard Brown filed criminal charges against him. Ignoring evidence that the victims were crossing with a walk signal, Brown’s vehicular crimes supervisor Charles A. Testagrossa said in a December 2013 letter that the DA didn’t prosecute Abu-Zayedeh because he had a green light and stayed at the scene.
The DMV threw out the tickets NYPD issued to Abu-Zayedeh last July in a hearing that lasted less than a minute. Allison’s family learned of the hearing months later, during a deposition for the civil suit.
Fuchs told Allison’s parents, Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao, that they had no legal right to participate in today’s hearing, and were “invited” as a “courtesy.”
“The driver doesn’t think he’s wrong,” said Tam, speaking to reporters this morning. “He still thinks it’s grandma’s fault. The two tickets were dismissed already. That was upsetting enough. This was the last chance that a government agency could have corrected this. And the judge viewed the video and he still didn’t make a decision. I don’t know what else he needs to know.”
Thanks mainly to the tenacity of Allison’s family and sustained media attention, today’s hearing was actually a vast improvement compared to DMV proceedings when the agency relies primarily on the driver’s version of events to determine if that same motorist should retain his driving privileges after a fatal crash.
Under DMV protocol, Allison’s family will be notified by letter of any action against Abu-Zayedeh’s license.
There will be a vigil for Allison this evening at the site of the crash, Main Street at Cherry Avenue, beginning at 6:30.