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Sidewalks Are No Sanctuary: Driver Jumps Curb, Kills 3 in the Bronx

2:07 PM EST on November 2, 2015

Nyanna Aquil, left, and Kristian Leka, were two of three people killed in the Bronx by a curb-jumping driver on Halloween, along with Nyanna’s grandfather Louis Perez. Photos via Daily News
Nyanna Aquil, left, and Kristian Leka, were two of three people killed in the Bronx by a curb-jumping driver on Halloween, along with Nyanna’s grandfather Louis Perez. Photos via Daily News
Nyanna Aquil, left, and Kristian Leka, were two of three people killed in the Bronx by a curb-jumping driver on Halloween, along with Nyanna’s grandfather Louis Perez. Photos via Daily News

A motorist killed three people Saturday, including a 10-year-old girl, and injured three others when he drove onto a Bronx sidewalk crowded with trick-or-treaters.

Police told the media Howard Unger, 52, of the Bronx, was driving west on Morris Park Avenue in a Dodge sedan at around 5 p.m. when he hit another vehicle from behind multiple times, hit a bus, and drove against oncoming traffic before going over the curb near Bogart Avenue.

Witnesses said the vehicle struck the victims on the sidewalk and went airborne. Photos from the scene show the car atop a fence, several feet off the ground, outside 936 Morris Park Avenue.

Unger killed Nyanna Aquil; her grandfather, 65-year-old Louis Perez; and Kristian Leka, 24, who according to the Times “was holding his younger sister’s hand to keep her safe.” Perez’s 3-year-old granddaughter, Leka’s sister, and Leka’s fiancé were injured.

From the Daily News:

“The guy in front of my feet, his body was torn in half. He was dead already,” said Kristina DeJesus, a hospital administrative assistant.

There was a young girl on the side of the car. She was like, ‘Can somebody help me?’ I was screaming at her, ‘Whatever you do, don’t move!’

“I had no time to cry ... to react,” she added. “My body went into help mode.”

Unnamed investigators told the Times and the Post Unger may have had a seizure before the crash. The Daily News reported that Unger “did not have a history of seizures or other health issues,” according to his mother.

"We are looking at every possible aspect," said Joe McCormack, vehicular crimes chief for District Attorney Robert Johnson.

Image: WCBS
Image: WCBS
Image: WCBS

Johnson filed manslaughter charges against a green cab driver who allegedly killed two pedestrians while off his epilepsy medication last March. District Attorney Ken Thompson did not charge a motorist who told police he hadn't taken his anti-seizure medication before killing a cyclist and injuring several other people in Brooklyn last July.

The New York State DMV relies on the honor system to flag license applicants with medical conditions that could affect their ability to drive. People who volunteer such information are required to have a doctor submit a form to the DMV for review.

There is precedent for bringing felony charges against motorists who fail to take medication and kill people as a result. Garbage truck driver Auvryn Scarlett was convicted of murder for fatally striking two tourists in Manhattan after he went off his medication and had a seizure behind the wheel. Prosecutors said Scarlett did not tell his employer or the DMV he had epilepsy. An appeals court reduced the conviction to manslaughter, but affirmed that a conviction on serious felony charges was warranted.

“This is not a freak occurrence,” Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, told the Times. “Even if it proves true that the driver had some sort of medical episode, we have a right to know what happened before.”

Saturday's crash was at least the fifth time a curb-jumping driver injured or killed children in the Bronx in the last 13 months. New York City motorists have killed at least 12 people on sidewalks and inside buildings in 2015, according to crash data tracked by Streetsblog.

Mayor Bill de Blasio issued a brief statement after the crash. It read in part: “We do not accept tragedies like this as inevitable. This could be any of our families. Each of us must contribute to making this a city where everyone, especially children, can walk our streets safely.”

Update: Mayor de Blasio refused questions from reporters about this crash on Monday afternoon.

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