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
  • armyvet00

    There is already a penalty for distracted pedestrians- they might get killed. Distracted drivers on the other hand face little to no penalties, even when they kill.

  • c2check

    I am increasingly gaining an understanding of why many people seem to not pay attention while walking.

    If you actually pay attention, you’ll be continuously appalled at what generally awful places NYC streets and sidewalks are. Gotta block that out.

    So you could pay attention to all the jerk drivers who are inching ever closer to you while you’re crossing with the light, and honking while doing so, while other cars are speeding by and trying to weave around the car waiting to turn. But in order for the sensory overload to not fill you with such overwhelming rage or terror that you want to smash in their cars, you must avert your eyes.

    That’s what I experience, at least.

  • ohhleary

    Just had a Twitter conversation with Assemblyman DenDekker about his remarks, and he said that they were in response to a question:

    Would love to know what mouth-breathing reporter found it appropriate to ask about distracted pedestrians at a press conference about a teenager getting killed in a hit-and-run.

  • Flakker

    We’re all in agreement that they’re offensive and wrong on this issue, but the thing that doesn’t get talked about enough is that virtually all our state legislators are actively strangling the city’s ability to make any decisions for itself. They should have no role in city-specific issues, much less be opining on anyone needing more “education” (oh lord how I hate that word. You’d think the cops would be “educating” a lot more motorists given that you can’t walk a block without coming across some kind of offensive behavior from them) while restricting the city’s ability to act on any given thing. More and more I wonder why we even have a city council if the state legislature is going to poke its nose in everything.

  • Eric McClure

    The education campaign we really need is one that would educate our esteemed elected officials about what’s actually killing people on New York City’s streets.

  • vnm

    This is utterly disgusting and infuriating. A sociopath runs into a person and drives away. THAT’S the problem. Instead of calling on the person to do the right thing and come forward, these politicians hold a press conference implying that the person who was killed was doing something wrong?

  • AMH

    If the fear of getting killed isn’t working, what the hell is a $25 fine going to do? This is revolting. We absolutely need to change behavior. DRIVERS need to be aware enough of their surroundings that they stop driving over people.

  • jooltman

    Call this guy with the cool Dutch name’s office tomorrow and tell him something about how they do it in the Netherlands: 518-455-4545

  • AlexWithAK

    Oh but they feel soooo bad when they do kill someone. And the media makes sure to note it in their coverage. Isn’t that enough? (Answer: NO!)

  • Dekker is Horrible

    DenDekker is horrible. Just horrible. On just about every issue. Have I mentioned he is horrible?

  • ElecEngineer

    Why are we so convinced that if the driver were going a few mph slower or that if a camera snapped a picture of the car that this crash wouldn’t have occurred?

  • Reader

    If NYC had traffic cameras and automated enforcement, more drivers would learn to slow the heck down. That would absolutely lead to fewer severe crashes, as it does in other cities with widespread speed and red light cams. That doesn’t seem like a hard concept to understand. New York City motorists currently run reds and speed because there is virtually zero chance of them getting caught. Chances are this hit-and-run driver had a habit of driving recklessly. A few tickets in the mail might have cured him of this habit before he killed someone.

    And if the driver had been going a few mph slower, perhaps he would have had more time to see Ovidio and react.

    No system is perfect, and crashes will still happen, but it’s foolish to think something like this couldn’t have been prevented.

  • ElecEngineer

    By that logic everything is preventable if people make different choices, but the human condition means we will all make mistakes sometimes.
    It just seems that too much faith is being put into a camera being the solution to everything when in reality, all it does is take pictures. Or is it that everyone would feel better if they knew the car owner in this crash would get a ticket in the mail in a few weeks?
    The presumption that drivers break laws because they don’t think they will get caught is fallacious. A cop could be hiding around any corner, ready to pounce, and all drivers have (or should have) this in the back of their mind. And if they don’t, it’s the fault of the police for not maintaining that image. Whereas with the cameras, you know where they are at, and they are easy to counteract and avoid.

  • walks bikes drives

    The honking at intersections that are filled with pedestrians really pisses me off. There is not much I can do about it as a pedestrian, but I have a nasty little habit as a driver… I wait. For the next light.

  • walks bikes drives

    Everything IS preventable if people make different choices. But, of course, you cannot help everyone make the right choice all the time. But, if you put settings in place that will help influence those choices, you will change some behavior, change some choices, and save some lives. No one is saying that increasing enforcement of any kind will stop all behaviors that kill or injure. But it will prevent some, and likely most.

    When I got my license, it was well known that precinct cops did not give speeding tickets, it was only the highway patrol. It has only been recently that precinct level officers started giving tickets. But they are still few and far between, that the chances of a cop hiding around the corner to give you a ticket in NYC are below slim, closer to none. Having cameras all over the place would be a piece of the puzzle, but by no means would it be the be the full cure.

  • ElecEngineer

    I think that is the point Peralta and DenDekker are making…

  • c2check

    Judging by how I see people driving it’s pretty clear the NYPD for the most part doesn’t care about giving out tickets, even when they’re standing right there. And drivers know this.

    Today: traffic cop directing at 42nd/Lex. Nonetheless, cars and trucks blocked the box (almost completely across all 4 lanes) for multiple cycles. And lots of honking, of course, which you may remember is actually illegal. Absurd.

    Sometimes, if the driver’s window is down, I’ll ask why they’re honking so much, or blocking the box since it obviously doesn’t do anything to benefit them, and causes a mess instead. But usually there is no way to effectively communicate this stuff to someone locked inside a big metal box. Drivers effectively have very little accountability.

  • BBnet3000

    or that if a camera snapped a picture of the car

    That would be very helpful in a hit and run case.

  • walks bikes drives

    No, they are blaming the victims.

  • Maggie

    Look, it hasn’t even been a whole week since an unlicensed, uninsured driver lost sight of the city bus that was right in front of him, and rather than slowing down, decided to swerve onto the city sidewalk as his best choice maneuver, pedestrians be damned.

    Do you really think drivers in NYC drive with a belief that NYPD might enforce the law?

  • sbauman

    You’re missing the point. Had the crash occurred with the driver going 50 mph the probability of death would have been 75%; at 40 mph it would have been 50%; at 25 mph it would have been 12%. The issue of vehicle speed isn’t so much to prevent crashes but to substantially reduce their consequence.

    The situation is analogous to the actions that have reduced the fatality rate for automobile occupants, since the publication of Nader’s book half a century ago. The crash rate has actually increased. However, automobile design has changed to protect car occupants during a crash.

  • Bobberooni

    If the pedestrian you hit was distracted, it’s OK to leave the scene of the crash.

  • Cookie23

    Hitting and killing then leaving the is not a mistake. It is a deliberate choice and a crime. The police can not be everywhere, cameras on the other hand work 24/7.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The state is important. And they are not really elected.

    Going to run against them? Start thinking about it now.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    these dinosaurs are similar to those who used to blame rape victims for wearing the wrong clothes ‘she asked for it’

  • Vernon6

    You should come to DC where the data around driver behavior overwhelmingly suggests automated enforcement is extremely effective.

  • Lol, I’ve even had people argue that its much worse to be a driver who kills someone, you feel bad forever.

  • steely

    I get up in the morning blaming the victim… poooor me, the Troglodytes

  • ElecEngineer

    Don’t believe everything you read. Most data is too simplistic and cherrypicked by the politicians and police who enacted the programs to make their programs look successful. Did their studies compare camera locations to non-camera locations? Did it account for regression-to-the-mean? Did it compare to local, regional, and national trends?

  • r

    Let me guess: 9/11 was an inside job.

  • JudenChino

    Don’t believe everything you read. Most data is too simplistic and cherrypicked by the politicians and police who enacted the programs to make their programs look successful. Did their studies compare camera locations to non-camera locations? Did it account for regression-to-the-mean? Did it compare to local, regional, and national trends?

    Yet, you have no problem endorsing a $25 fine for distracted pedestrian walking..

    The presumption that drivers break laws because they don’t think they will get caught is fallacious.

    And I look at my iphone in the cross-walk because even though there’s the potential of my death, a $25 fine would do it?

    Stop insulting this thread with your obviously flawed logic masked by mansplaining, word salad and condescension.

  • wkgreen

    Drivers break laws because they are oblivious to the fact that they are breaking them. Cops are rarely around the corner. Even if they always did their job there aren’t enough of them and they can’t see everything. I see drivers run red lights ALL THE TIME. Too often they are trying to beat the change from yellow, accompanied by a burst of speed, but completely miss just as pedestrians begin to step into the crosswalk. I’m speaking as a driver who was once caught on camera at a red light, and I think that there are not enough of them. For me it was a lesson well learned. EVERY intersection needs BOTH a camera and radar. The fine does not need to be exorbitant, but I guarantee people would not break the law if they knew that getting caught was something close to a sure thing.

  • mattkime

    yes yes…there’s nothing we can do…tickets are just revenue generation….cars cannot change what they do.

  • WalkingNPR

    Not only would slower speeds give drivers more reaction time, but….

  • WalkingNPR

    By that logic everything is preventable if people make different choices, but the human condition means we will all make mistakes sometimes

    Vision Zero (the real, Swedish thing, not the piece of junk DeBlasio calls Vision Zero) agrees with you there.

    But the whole point is that, yes, humans will make mistakes, but we should engineer the environment to minimize the impact of those mistakes.

  • ElecEngineer

    Then at what speed is it safe to allow cars to drive? By your logic, we should reduce it to 1mph because that would give everyone the greatest chance of survival.

  • ElecEngineer

    What about the penalty of higher insurance, a crashed car, and possible injuries? I agree with your point, but don’t act as if there are no inherent “penalties” for the driver. No car owner wants to damage their car or get hurt either.

  • ElecEngineer

    Ironically, despite it being a crime with jail time and fines the threat of prosecution did not deter the act.

  • WalkingNPR

    Actually, that’s not what “my logic” (and this is a widely-accepted and used graphic, not “my logic”) is showing at all. What this graphic shows is there is a large difference in pedestrian survivability within the relatively small speed range of 20-40 mph. So yeah, it’s pretty reasonable to take that into consideration when designing streets on which there is the potential for people and cars to interact, like city streets. On limited-access highways, the limit can be different, since pedestrians aren’t present.

    But based on your argument, according to your logic there should be no speed limit at all?

  • ElecEngineer

    Not at all. The speed limit should be established by science of traffic safety practiced by traffic engineers as the result of a traffic engineering study, not a limit set by police and politicians.

  • Simon Phearson

    Engineers can’t determine the goal toward which they are to work. They take instruction and determine how best to achieve the goal presented to them. It’s politicians – and the public – who are responsible for deciding, for instance, whether the priority should be moving cars as fast as possible through dense residential neighborhoods or creating conditions that allow pedestrians and cyclists to co-exist safely with drivers.

    How is an engineer supposed to determine, on their own, what speed limit is appropriate for a given street, or how a street should be designed?

  • mattkime

    agree in theory, but in practice traffic engineering goals are based on moving cars as quickly as possible, all else be damned.

  • ElecEngineer

    The city’s traffic engineering department leadership should and does dictate the engineering goals based on national standards. If pedestrian safety is key, then it is up to city leadership to ensure that is a prominent consideration. The engineers will do what their leadership tells them based on the well established science of the TE discipline.

  • ElecEngineer

    That is an unfair and probably inaccurate representation. Engineering goals are set by the city’s TE department’s leadership, and there is no reason that pedestrian safety cannot be or is not included. Why is there no blame on the city’s TE dept if that is indeed how they run? The problem often comes when city or state laws or policies or politics interfere with the ability to execute optimal designs.

  • mattkime

    I don’t intend to place blame, just describing it.

    “there is no reason that pedestrian safety cannot be or is not included”

    i agree but it just doesn’t happen. if it did, JSK would have been just another traffic commissioner.

  • Vernon6

    Go look it up for yourself. It’s all public information.

  • Joe R.

    The engineers can easily design streets where the 85th percentile speed matches whatever legislated speed limits may exist. In fact, that’s really the only viable approach if the goal is to reduce traffic speeds. Just slapping a lower number on a sign doesn’t get people to slow down.

    The problems of course come when they want to implement these designs. Community boards and/or politicians will often give them a set of contradictory goals. They might say we want traffic calming or a bike lane, or greater safety at intersections, but we won’t let you narrow lanes, remove lanes, or reduce parking. In a word, traffic engineers are micromanaged by the people they work for. This is quite different from nearly any other engineering profession where the engineer is given an overall goal, then allowed to choose the best way to meet that goal. We need to allow traffic engineers the same latitude.

  • Joe R.

    The problem is they’re NOT allowed to do what needs to be done. As a good example, it would greatly enhance pedestrian safety if we could increase lines of sight at intersections by prohibiting parking within 50 feet or 75 feet of a crosswalk. Unfortunately, politicians won’t let traffic engineers remove this parking. When you give engineers conditions which make it impossible to meet their goals, you end up with exactly what we have in NYC—streets which really don’t work all that well for any user. I’m continually amazed especially how we’ve allowed the notion of having free, curbside car storage to be more important than safety considerations. If parking is sacrosanct, there’s often not a whole lot traffic engineers can do.

    If your trade is electrical engineer, which seems likely from your screen name, then think how awful your designs might be if your customers said you had to use a particular part. You might need to add additional layers of unnecessary complexity just to get the final design to function at all with the chosen part. Even then, it would be far from your best design. That’s exactly the situation traffic engineers in NYC face when community boards or politicians tell them parking is off limits, or we want a traffic light at this intersection.

  • Joe R.

    We’ve all seen those graphics but I have a deeper question. Of those 9 out of 10 pedestrians who “survive” being hit by a vehicle traveling at 20 mph, how many of them recover enough to lead fully functional lives? If half of them have permanent injuries so severe as to render their life a living hell, is it really a worthwhile goal to reduce speeds so they survive? I know what I’m saying sounds callous on the face of it but I’m thinking of this from my own perspective. I’d rather die than end up with lost limbs, or permanently in a wheelchair, or a mental vegetable. I’ll bet the majority feels likewise.

    I think reducing pedestrian deaths is a worthy goal, but at the same time I feel basing policy only on that is questionable. The real goal should be to reduce the total of deaths AND life-altering injuries. It may well be that 10 mph or 15 mph will end up being the sweet spot, not 20 mph. Or perhaps the end result will be a total redesign of vehicle exteriors to make crashes safer at any speed to those outside the vehicle.

  • ElecEngineer

    I already know the answer. The data is NOT complete, and that is intentional. If it was complete it would not support the continued existence of the program. You should always question data when the analysis is incomplete and lacks sound analysis.

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