It was a particularly barbaric crime: A driver fatally struck a person who was crossing the street with a walker, then left the scene. That it was the second such death in a matter of weeks is another reminder that New York City, thanks in part to indifference in Albany, is failing to meaningfully address its ongoing epidemic of deadly hit-and-run collisions.
Last Sunday at around 12:30 a.m., 59-year-old Marlene Zotti was crossing Ninth Avenue at 42nd Street in Borough Park when a man, identified in the press as Marco Ortiz, ran her over with a minivan. Ortiz allegedly did not stop to summon or render aid.
Zotti, who had diabetes, had exited the B11 bus shortly before she was hit, the Post reported. She died at the scene.
On Monday, more than 24 hours after the crash, Ortiz turned himself in at the 66th Precinct, according to the Post. The Post said Ortiz “told police he had been arguing with his wife” before hitting Zotti.
Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson charged Ortiz with leaving the scene, a D felony that carries penalties ranging from probation to seven years in prison, according to court records. Thompson filed no charges for the act of killing Marlene Zotti.
“Nobody is beyond forgiveness,” Zotti’s brother, Robert Medina, told the Post, “and I do believe it was an accident, whether he was drunk or not.”
Motorists who leave the scene, of course, can’t be tested for intoxication immediately after a crash. Under state law, drivers who may be impaired have an incentive to flee, since the penalty for hit-and-run is less severe than causing death or injury while intoxicated. State legislators have failed to fix the law.
Spurred in part by Albany inaction, the City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio adopted a law to attach fines to hit-and-run crashes. But because of how the law is worded enforcement hinges on NYPD making an arrest and requires proof that a driver knew or had reason to know a collision occurred -- the same loophole in state law that allows hit-and-run motorists to avoid criminal penalties.
Meanwhile, NYPD does not investigate all hit-and-run crashes, and cases that are investigated often don't result in arrest. Transportation Alternatives found that of 60 fatal hit-and-runs investigated in 2012, NYPD arrested just 15 drivers. Hit-and-run drivers killed at least 13 city pedestrians and cyclists this year through the end of July, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog. In five of those cases the driver was not immediately caught or identified.
And in New York City, identifying a hit-and-run driver does not necessarily lead to an arrest. On July 2, the driver of a private sanitation truck ran over Alberta Bagu on Broadway in Bushwick. Bagu, a 46-year-old who had multiple sclerosis and, like Zotti, was using a walker, was left to die in the street.
NYPD told the press Bagu was “jaywalking.” Police and Thompson filed no charges against the driver.
Brad Aaron began writing for Streetsblog in 2007, after years as a reporter, editor, and publisher in the alternative weekly business. Brad adopted New York's dysfunctional traffic justice system as his primary beat for Streetsblog. He lives in Manhattan.
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