DMV Revokes License of Driver Who Killed Allie Liao

Chris Robbins at Gothamist reports that the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles has revoked the license of Ahmad Abu-Zayedeh, who struck and killed 3-year-old Allie Liao in a Queens crosswalk in 2013. The decision by administrative law judge Sidney Fuchs reinforces the importance of DMV safety hearings as a venue to ensure that reckless drivers face consequences for killing other people.

Photo: Brad Aaron

On October 6, 2013, Abu-Zayedeh failed to yield to Allie and her grandmother as they crossed Main Street in Flushing with the signal. With Queens District Attorney Richard Brown declining to prosecute and a DMV judge offhandedly tossing the two tickets that had been issued to Abu-Zayedeh, the DMV safety hearing on January 6 was perhaps the last opportunity to hold him accountable for ending Allie Liao’s life.

Fuchs did not render a decision on the day of the hearing, but a DMV spokesperson told Gothamist that the judge revoked Abu-Zayedeh’s license on January 13. The length of the revocation has yet to be announced, reports Robbins.

Attorney Steve Vaccaro, who represents the Liaos, has been raising the profile of DMV safety hearings in a series of Streetsblog posts. He gave this statement in response to the DMV’s decision:

On behalf of the Liao family and the many others who have lost family members to traffic violence, I welcome the news that the New York State DMV has revoked the license of Ahmed Abu-Zayedeh, who struck and killed 3 year old Ally Liao in the crosswalk while she crossed with the right of way, hand-in-hand with her grandmother. This sanction cannot compensate for the harm caused — nothing can. But it affirms our shared understanding that driving is a privilege, not a right, to be forfeited when thoughtless or reckless acts cause grave harm.

Currently, DMV does not appear to be adhering to its policy of holding safety hearings within one year of a fatal crash. The hearing for Abu-Zayedeh happened 15 months after the crash that killed Allie Liao. The safety hearing to review the license of Leonardo Degianni, who killed cyclist Mathieu Lefevre more than three years ago, in October 2011, is scheduled for January 27. Even these delayed hearings may not have happened without public pressure from Vaccaro and victims’ families.

One of the planks in Families For Safe Streets’ DMV reform agenda is to hold these hearings promptly and transparently, with quarterly reports about outcomes. The decision to revoke Abu-Zayedeh’s license is a sign that these reforms matter and can keep dangerous drivers off the streets.

  • BBnet3000

    Some penalty. I rarely use my license.

    That said, if we can reform this process and have it work reliably we can take unsafe drivers off the road or expose them to the possibility of harsher criminal penalties if they do keep driving.

  • Phil

    Yeah, big deal. Now Abu-Zayedeh gets to drive without a license.

  • WalkingNPR

    I agree the guy could absolutely keep driving, and from the sound of him, likely will. But I still think there’s some progress made.

    1) It’s better than the DMV having let him keep it: yeah, you ran over a child and a grandmother who had the right of way, but keep driving legally! You’re clearly responsible enough for it!

    2) Hopefully it’s the sort of thing that makes other people start to consider the gravity of the responsibility they undertake while driving. People who really wouldn’t continue driving without a license and so maybe take it a little more seriously so they don’t risk losing it. I would, of course, hope that the idea of hitting a pedestrian alone would be enough to keep people from driving like maniacs, but, as we’ve seen, the idea that it would be an unavoidable “accident” if they did (and the way drivers have been treated as the victim in this situation in the past) seems to negate that.

    3) The big picture idea that the DMV has a role to play other than just the place that collects your papers and rubber stamps your license–that it should actually play a role in traffic justice.

    It certainly needs to be paired with better enforcement, so that when this guy does drive without a license, at least he’ll be caught and face some hopefully painful-enough-to-make-an-impression penalties.

    Of course, enforcing 19-190 would be preferable, but it didn’t exist when this happened….

  • Parent

    I’m I’m recalling correctly, that means Abu-Zayedeh has now had his license suspended or revoked in two states. He should never be allowed to drive again no matter where he lives.

    Thank you Steve Vaccaro for all you’ve done here. It took a lot of work to achieve this small but significant victory. You and Allie’s parents are heroes.

  • HamTech87

    At what point does the state get to seize his car?

  • ToastPatterson

    This whole story makes me so sad and angry. Such a tiny penalty for killing a little girl crossing the street with the right of way. I hope they clean the driver out in the civil suit.

  • dporpentine

    “Heroes” is a strong word in most circumstances. Here it’s all that will do.

  • JT

    ????

    It’s progress.

  • ocschwar

    Next step: start suspending licenses for drivers who just injure peds.

  • AnoNYC

    Kill or seriously injure due to recklessness; permanent ban on driving in NY state.

    Caught driving again? Vehicle seized no matter the owner. Rental vehicle? Must pay the cost of vehicle to state.

  • Kevin Love

    Or go the path of Ontario, which has an online database and 1-900 number to confirm licence validity. There, the vehicle is seized and impounded for a minimum of 45 days no matter who the owner is. Yes, there are big fines and impound fees to get it back.

    An excerpt from the government’s website at:

    http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/safety/vip/responsibility.shtml

    “What are my responsibilities as a vehicle owner/plate holder?

    You are responsible for taking all reasonable steps, depending on your particular situation, to ensure that every person who drives your vehicle has a valid driver’s licence. To verify a valid driver’s licence through the Ministry of Transportation (MTO):

    Call 1-900-565-6555 for an automated service. A cost of $2.50 per check will be charged to your phone bill. Please have the driver’s licence number ready; or

    Access MTO’s website. Users may check more than one driver’s licence number at $2.00 per check payable by MasterCard or Visa”

  • How about start with making this the default response instead of requiring extraordinary pressure to achieve this end 15 months after the fact.

  • Joe R.

    Yes, that’s exactly what we should be doing. We can have all the traffic law enforcement and street redesigns we want, but in the end I think the prospect of never being able to drive again if you kill or seriously injure someone due to recklessness will be the biggest thing causing drivers to operate their vehicles more competently (or just voluntarily turn in their licenses if there are physical or mental reasons they can’t).

  • Larry Littlefield

    God forbid I ever ran over a child. It would be a crushing blow, and I would never want to drive again.

    Anyone who feels like getting behind the wheel after something like that is too much of a risk to be allowed to.

  • D’BlahZero

    Remember how Mr. Abu-Zayedeh refused to watch the video of himself driving over grandmother and child? That was a clear indicator that this was not a crushing blow to him. Per media reports, he’s been in denial through this whole process. Perhaps this license revocation will be part of his wake up call. Hopefully it’s part of a much needed cultural shift at the DMV and on the streets in general. Thank you to all who made this happen.

  • MiklosMeszaros

    I would modify it by adding that if driver injures a pedestrian that has ROW, then an automatic suspension should be in place until a full investigation and report is completed. The report is delivered to the DMV and reviewed to either continue suspension, revoke, or end suspension of license. Incidents where the pedestrian did not have right of way would not result in immediate suspension, but would still be under review to determine if a driver acted reasonably and could still result in an action. The investigations should be completed within thirty days with hearings another thirty afterwards. This would likely lead to a significant headway in removing dangerous drivers off the road while maintaining some semblance of due process.

    This perspective was based on a past civil case that had a inebriated pedestrian walk into side of moving car in an unlit area that had no crosswalks anywhere near the point of contact. The driver remained and called emergency services as he was the only person even able to at the site. A significant number of incidents in this city are caused by incapacitated pedestrians with erratic movements.

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