After Hit-and-Run Death, Queens Pols Blame “Distracted Pedestrians”

Assemblyman Michael DenDekker thinks pedestrians are to blame for the city's hit-and-run epidemic. Photo: David Meyer
At a press conference to call for action after the hit-and-run killing of Ovidio Jaramillo, Assembly Member Michael DenDekker blamed pedestrians for their own deaths. Photo: David Meyer

A hit-and-run driver killed 17-year-old Ovidio Jaramillo at the intersection of Northern Boulevard and Junction Boulevard in Jackson Heights on Tuesday night. In response, Queens electeds held a press conference today at the site of the crash, where they called for laws and education campaigns to stop “distracted pedestrians.”

The driver, who has yet to be apprehended, struck Jaramillo at 10:50 p.m. as he was crossing Northern Boulevard from north to south.

Instead of calling attention to street design that encourages speeding, or state laws that limit the city’s ability to deploy speed enforcement cameras, State Senator Jose Peralta and Assembly Member Michael DenDekker mostly blamed the victims of dangerous driving.

Peralta said he would push for legislation requiring DOT to mount a public education campaign about “the dangers of being a distracted pedestrian.” DenDekker called for crossing guards at every school corner, which he said would be funded by speed camera fines, and talked up a law he has proposed to make texting in crosswalks illegal.

NYPD told Streetsblog there was “nothing whatsoever” in the police account of the crash to suggest that Jaramillo was distracted by an electronic device when he was struck. When pressed on why the proposals focused on pedestrian distractedness, which hasn’t been implicated at all in Jaramillo’s death, Peralta implied that enough had been done to calm traffic. “We have tons of things to hold drivers accountable,” he said. “I’m supportive of Vision Zero, but we need to have more education campaigns.”

DenDekker pushed for his proposed $25 fine for texting in a crosswalk. “The idea of the bill is not to fine per se pedestrians but to change behavior,” he said. “Pedestrians need to be aware of their surroundings.”

Also present at the press event was Assembly Member Francisco Moya, whose recent contribution to Queens street safety policy has been an obstinate campaign to block a road diet and protected bike lane on 111th Street alongside Flushing Meadows Corona Park. “Ovidio’s life should not have ended so soon and his death should be a call to action,” Moya said, but he proposed no course of action to protect people from hit-and-run drivers.

The intersection of Northern Boulevard and Junction Boulevard is especially dangerous. According to NYPD, 25 crashes have occurred there so far this year, leading to eight injuries and one death. In 2013, a driver hit and killed 3-year-old Jahir Figueroa at the same intersection.

Both streets are wide, leading to excessive speeding and dangerous turning movements. The situation is begging for a street redesign, but none of the three electeds mentioned that possibility.

The three legislators could also use their positions in Albany to make streets safer. State law currently limits the number of operational speed cameras in NYC to no more than 140, and those cameras must be in the vicinity of a school and can only operate during school activities. According to WNYC’s map of speed cameras, there have been cameras on Northern Boulevard near the crash site, but none are currently active.

With fewer restrictions on the speed camera program, the full length of deadly streets like Northern Boulevard could be enforced at all hours. In the event of a hit-and-run crash, camera footage could be used to apprehend the driver. None of the legislators mentioned these potential remedies, which they could help pass in Albany.

Speaking after the press conference, DenDekker expressed confidence that Jaramillo’s killer would get caught, charged with vehicular manslaughter and sent to jail, but the NYPD admitted to the City Council last week that of the 48 “catastrophic” hit-and-run incidents causing severe injury or death this year, only 28 have been prosecuted.

Jaramillo’s friends and family, including his grandmother, attended the press conference. “Ovidio was our best friend,” said his friend ToniAnn Wittmer. “He was always there to put a smile on your face no matter what said.”

Rich Furlong, who lives near the intersection, blasted the legislators for their tone-deaf proposals. “They’re using this poor kid’s death to push their don’t-text-and-run campaign,” he said. “They’re blaming the victim.”

Photo: David Meyer
Photo: David Meyer
  • Larry Littlefield

    As many people have been killed by motor vehicles in NYC this year while walking on the sidewalk as were killed in San Bernardio — 14 in each case.

    The ISIS wannabes also wounded 21. I wouldn’t be surprised if the sidewalk drivers didn’t match that too.

  • Andrew

    The engineers can easily design streets where the 85th percentile speed matches whatever legislated speed limits may exist.

    The 85th percentile speed is an appropriate guideline on rural highways. It is absolutely irrelevant on city streets.

    You also grossly understate the design and implementation challenges faced by traffic engineers.

    In fact, that’s really the only viable approach if the goal is to reduce traffic speeds.

    Nonsense.

    Just slapping a lower number on a sign doesn’t get people to slow down.

    Of course not. Just as slapping up a stop sign doesn’t get drivers to stop and painting a crosswalk doesn’t get drivers to yield to pedestrians.

    Laws need to be enforced if they are to be at all effective. And the degree of enforcement the NYPD provides is barely better than nothing.

    You want people to stick to the speed limit? Then make it plainly clear to them that they will be penalized if the choose to drive faster.

    Automated enforcement works. Of course, a lot of drivers dislike it, because they want to speed, and for a change they can’t get away with it.

  • Andrew

    And what happens if those traffic engineers decide that the appropriate speed limit on a given street, or for that matter on most of their city’s streets, is 25 mph, yet many drivers choose to drive much faster than that?
    Are you opposed to effective enforcement of all laws or only of traffic laws?

  • Andrew

    Every single day, my life is threatened by drivers who blatantly break the law, ignoring stop signs while pedestrians are crossing and failing to yield to pedestrians while turning.

    They know quite well that whatever tiny risk to “higher insurance, a crashed car, and possible injuries” they face in their illegal actions is massively overshadowed by the risk to life and limb that the pedestrians face.

    When a pedestrian legally crossing the street is killed by a motorist breaking the law, who do you think deserves the blame? Do we blame the motorist who chose to break the law and threaten the pedestrian’s life? Or do we blame the pedestrian for possibly not noticing and reacting to the motorist who chose to break the law and threaten his life?

  • ElecEngineer

    I have faith that speed limits that are properly established by traffic engineers are correct and support them. It’s important to note something in your statement that you are not aware of. It is a well-established fact that you cannot control speeds with speed limits. This has been studies extensively, and studies have found that drivers do not drive faster when limits are raised nor do they slow down when limits are lowered. Knowing this fact about human psychology we must deal with the way things are, not the way we’d like things to be. We must then turn to the traffic engineers and look at methods of reducing speeds that work.There are various aspects of road design that will naturally calm speeds and achieve the desired result. I do not oppose the fair and proper enforcement of laws.

  • ElecEngineer

    I wouldn’t think the pedestrian would be to blame but we can’t ignore the fact that the pedestrian has some responsibility to remain aware of his surroundings and attune to the dangers around him. Pedestrians who put the ear buds in and stare at a phone while walking down the street cannot completely abdicate themselves of all responsibility if something happens. In the car world, it’s called defensive driving. Shouldn’t pedestrians be prepared to act defensively as well?

  • Joe R.

    Good street designs are self-enforcing. That’s why I suggested a street design which results in most drivers going under the speed limit, even without enforcement.

    Automated enforcement works. Of course, a lot of drivers dislike it, because they want to speed, and for a change they can’t get away with it.

    It does but you hit on the very reason we’ll never get enough of it to make a significant difference. Drivers don’t like. They’ll vote in legislators who will limit the amount of automated enforcement.

    The 85th percentile speed is an appropriate guideline on rural highways. It is absolutely irrelevant on city streets.

    It works everywhere. You *don’t* design city streets like highways the way NYC often does. If you do, you end up with a speeding problem. If you want drivers to adhere to a 25 mph speed limit, you redesign the street so at least 85% of them don’t feel comfortable exceeding 25 mph. It’s not even that hard to do. You narrow lanes, use roundabouts liberally, perhaps put bollards between lanes near intersections, in general make it so drivers know they’re likely to hit a solid object if they go too fast. Even better is once built, this is self-enforcing. No need to install speed cameras. In fact, I’ve heard if you need to rely mainly on enforcement to get drivers to behave a certain way that means your design is a failure. Lots of NYC streets are due for rebuilding. We might as well reconfigure them for slower speeds.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    i wouldn’t Think the girl Is to Blame for getting raped but If she didn’t Wear that short skirt and skimoy top ….

  • ElecEngineer

    Not at all a comparable thing.

  • qrt145

    Defensive walking may be a good idea for a pedestrian, but it’s certainly not a “responsibility”, because the pedestrian is not the one operating the dangerous machinery.

  • Joe R.

    Ideally it’s good to always be aware of your surroundings BUT if motorists did what they were supposed to do any pedestrian crossing in the crosswalk with a walk signal (or in front of a stop sign) could in theory be oblivious and still be safe. I agree if a pedestrian is crossing midblock or against the light the onus is on them to be aware of their surroundings but not necessarily at any other time.

  • Alicia

    Why not? You’re blaming people for being crime victims while behaving in a perfectly legal manner. What’s not “comparable” about that analogy?

  • ElecEngineer

    Are you pretending to be dense? In rape the victim is helpless and the raper is performing an intentional act with a known outcome. Unless a driver is intending to kill people (in which case no laws or enforcement will be of any help), the driver doesn’t want to wreck his car, get hurt, or hurt anyone else. So in that case, if the pedestrian is aware of their surroundings and can see the car coming, there is often an opportunity to take evasive action.

  • Alicia

    Are you pretending to be dense?
    No, are you?

    Unless a driver is intending to kill people (in which case no laws or
    enforcement will be of any help), the driver doesn’t want to wreck his
    car, get hurt, or hurt anyone else.

    Or unless he’s looking at his cell phone, or trying to beat a yellow light, or any number of careless actions.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    or speeding

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