Driver Who Killed Jean Chambers Off the Streets, No Thanks to DMV
A driver with a staggering record of recklessness, who nevertheless had a valid New York State driver’s license, was sentenced to jail time and had his license revoked for the death of Manhattan pedestrian Jean Chambers.
Roberto Mercado hit Chambers while making a left turn at West End Avenue and W. 95th Street in the late morning hours of July 10, 2014. Mercado struck Chambers as he drove through the crosswalk and into the southbound lanes while facing north.
District Attorney Cy Vance charged Mercado with homicide — an unusually serious charge for a sober New York City motorist who remained at the scene of a fatal crash. Mercado was convicted at trial last November. Yesterday Judge Daniel Conviser sentenced him to one to three years in state prison.
At the sentencing, Conviser said Mercado was completely responsible for the crash, according to the Daily News:
“To me this is not an accident … It was a violent crime. It was a crime of extraordinary violence and the fact that you didn’t intend to kill Jean Chambers is fully accounted for.”
“As New Yorkers, we shouldn’t have to be fearful … that we can be mowed down by somebody who is acting with extraordinary carelessness and extraordinary criminal negligence.”
Mercado will be eligible for parole in eight months, the Daily News reported. Conviser revoked Mercado’s license, which in New York State means he may have his driving privileges reinstated after a prescribed period of time, pending DMV approval. Update: Conviser revoked Mercado’s license for six months, according to court records, which is generally considered the minimum for revocations.
“Due to this defendant’s criminal negligence, a beloved artist, mother, wife, and community member is dead,” said Vance in a press release issued Tuesday. “Roberto Mercado’s driving record demonstrates a history of carelessness and illegal, dangerous conduct.”
Vance was apparently motivated to bring the homicide charge in part because Mercado has a rap sheet of citations, crashes, and unlicensed driving dating to the 1980s. In a letter to Conviser [PDF] sent last December, Assistant District Attorney Michael Pasinkoff, who prosecuted the case, asked that Mercado be sentenced “to the maximum term authorized by law.”
In the months before he killed Chambers, Pasinkoff wrote, Mercado injured three pedestrians in two separate crashes in Queens. In January 2014, Mercado hit two people on 101st Street, causing both victims to be hospitalized. Mercado blamed the sun for the crash, according to Pasinkoff.
Three months later, Mercado hit a 13-year-old boy in Ozone Park, and yelled “What are you doing?” at the victim before driving off. Police tracked Mercado down after the child, despite being injured, managed to get a photo of his license plate.
Pasinkoff’s letter does not indicate that Queens District Attorney Richard Brown filed any charges for the January 2014 crash. Brown allowed Mercado to plead guilty to leaving the scene, a traffic infraction, for the May hit-and-run, resulting in a sentence of five days of community service.
Mercado believed Jean Chambers “should have seen him as he drove through the pedestrian crosswalk and into the wrong lanes of traffic,” according to Pasinkoff.
From 1982 to 1999, Pasinkoff wrote, Mercado “apparently had no valid license.” Yet beginning in 1982, according to Pasinkoff, Mercado, who is now 52, amassed well over a dozen convictions for traffic crimes and infractions, including speeding, red light-running, and driving without a license. In 1995 Mercado was convicted of unlicensed aggravated operation in Brooklyn, and sentenced to 60 days in jail, three years probation, and a $500 fine.
Mercado’s record “would lead anyone to predict that eventually he would kill someone on the road,” wrote Pasinkoff. But the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles considered Mercado fit to drive legally.
Mercado, who is supposed to start serving his sentence in a couple of weeks, will be off the roads for a while, at least. But how many motorists with similar histories, sanctioned by the DMV, continue to endanger New Yorkers’ lives?