Family of Victoria Nicodemus: Get Reckless Drivers Off NYC Streets

At the invitation of Council Member Laurie Cumbo, seated on the left, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg was in Fort Greene last night to share her department's efforts to curb traffic fatalities. Image: David Meyer
At the invitation of Council Member Laurie Cumbo, seated on the left, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg was in Fort Greene last night to talk about DOT street redesigns. Photo: David Meyer

The family of Victoria Nicodemus is calling on NYPD to do more to get reckless drivers off city streets.

Nicodemus died last December when Marlon Sewell struck her with his SUV on a Fort Greene sidewalk, in a crash that injured two other pedestrians. Sewell, whose driving record reportedly includes incidents of unlicensed driving and speeding in school zones, was charged with aggravated unlicensed operation. This month a judge declined to revoke Sewell’s license, which was reinstated after he killed Nicodemus, because Brooklyn District Attorney Ken Thompson did not charge him with reckless driving.

Since the vigil and art installation held in her memory, Nicodemus’s siblings have joined other victims of traffic violence and their family members at Vision Zero events, to advocate for more serious charges against Sewell and changes in laws and policies that enable motorist negligence.

At a public event last night, Nicodemus’s brother Peter Miller spoke to representatives from DOT and NYPD. Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who represents the area of Fort Greene where Nicodemus was killed, scheduled the forum in response to her death.

While Miller commended both departments for their ongoing Vision Zero efforts, he pressed NYPD to hold dangerous drivers accountable. “I’m wondering why there can’t be more done to immobilize a car, or impound a car, or create some sort of repercussions that have more of an impact that simply arresting a guy, saying ‘Ticket! We arrested him!,’ and letting him walk out the next day and get back in his car,” he asked Dennis Fulton, an NYPD crash investigator.

Fulton said the department is committed to filing additional charges against Sewell, but is limited by current laws. “I understand your sister, you know, she was on the sidewalk, she had no chance — and that’s pretty evident from the video,” Fulton said. “We’re going to act within the parameters that we’ve been dealt and we’ll do our best to bring criminal charges against the individual.”

“These are legislative proposals that we can pursue,” said Fulton, “but the police department acts within the parameters of those particular laws.”

Thompson’s office didn’t send anyone to last night’s event.

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and Sean Quinn, acting co-director of pedestrian improvement projects, gave an update on DOT initiatives in neighborhoods near Downtown Brooklyn [PDF]. 

In addition to the Lafayette Avenue bike lane, which the Community Board 2 transportation committee endorsed last week, DOT plans to expand the median on Gold Street between Sands Street and York Street, add a left turn lane at the intersection of Bedford Avenue and Fulton Street, and make improvements to Flatbush Avenue near Barclays Center. DOT also intends to remove an auto lane on Clinton Avenue between Atlantic and Flushing avenues to add a protected bike lane.

DOT's Sean Quinn gave attendees at Laurie Cumbo's Vision Zero Town Hall a rundown of street safety projects in the district. Image: DOT
DOT’s Sean Quinn gave attendees at Laurie Cumbo’s Vision Zero Town Hall a rundown of street safety projects in the district. Image: DOT

Quinn said DOT plans to introduce improvements to the Eastern Parkway corridor with a redesign of the Rogers Avenue intersection sometime this year.

“The Nicodemus family is here and we are reminded one fatality is one too many,” Trottenberg said. “That’s what drives our work. We’re never going to rest until we bring that number down.”

Speaking to Streetsblog after the event, Cumbo said she wanted to explore ways to get irresponsible drivers off the road, and commended Trottenberg and DOT.

“In a short period of time, to see success is quite impressive,” Cumbo said. “Commissioner Trottenberg is impressive, she’s tough and she’s diligent about the work that she’s doing. She’s really passionate about this and to have a commissioner who’s passionate about this is critical.”

  • mattkime

    ‘Fulton said the department is committed to filing additional charges against Sewell, but is limited by current laws.’

    What the heck does that mean? Aside from an expression of chosen helplessness.

  • Geck

    A two-way protected lane on Clinton between Flushing and Atlantic would be a big improvement over the sharrows on Vanderbilt.

  • Joe R.

    In a nutshell, the problem is we’re reluctant in this country to revoke driver licenses because we feel driving is practically a constitutional right. It’s a shame good drivers don’t push for more permanent revocation of the licenses of bad drivers. These bad drivers cost everyone more in insurance premiums, and they endanger everyone. Certainly killing a person on a sidewalk should be grounds for permanent license revocation. At the same time, we also need to ensure driver’s licenses are only revoked or suspended for moving violations, not for things like failing to pay child support. Once that’s done, we need steep penalties for driving without a license, including forfeiture of the vehicle you’re driving.

  • Reader

    The sharrows on Vanderbilt should be uprgraded to a protected lane, too. This is a fantastic development on Clinton, but Vanderbilt will continue to be a major bike highway and ought to be made safer!

  • Bob Sanders

    The problem is that even bad drivers think they are good drivers.

  • This is exactly the problem. Drivers in general hear about these stores and think, hey, I sometimes run lights, or stop signs, I usually speed. If these actions are dangerous, then I’m a dangerous driver. But I don’t think I’m a dangerous driver, so its easier for me to believe these actions are safe, and thus, these drivers aren’t bad, they’re just unlucky.

  • AMH

    Unpaid bike ticket? Lose your license!
    Kill someone? No problem!

  • Brian Howald

    Impounding the vehicle of a driver caught with no valid license (or committing even traffic violations) was suggested by Ms. Nicodemus’s brother. If I’m not mistaken, the NYPD’s somewhat unclear response was that current law does not allow for that.

  • AlexWithAK

    “Well 16-year-old rural resident, you’ve passed your very simple driving test! Here’s your license. Remember, it’s basically valid until you die, even if you move to a big city with lots of traffic in a different state because there’s no need to retest or retrain you at any point again in your life unless you really, really screw up. (And even then you’ll probably be fine.) Enjoy!”

  • Frank Dell

    For me, this lone sentence in the article jumped off the page:

    “Thompson’s office didn’t send anyone to last night’s event.”

    I am dumbstruck.

  • r

    What the hell is up with the wide parking lanes on Gold Street?!?

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