Years After Death of Ariel Russo, NYPD Chases Still Injuring and Killing People

Last week Franklin Reyes was sentenced to three to nine years in prison for the death of 4-year-old Ariel Russo.

NYPD pursuits have killed at least one person since the 2013 death of Ariel Russo, and injured an unknown number of other people.
NYPD pursuits have killed at least one person since the 2013 death of Ariel Russo, and injured an unknown number of bystanders and police.

Police pulled Reyes over on W. 89th Street, between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues, on June 4, 2013, after he drove his family’s pick-up truck across several lanes to make a turn. As officers walked toward the truck, Reyes, who was 17 and did not have a drivers license, hit the gas.

Police chased Reyes for eight blocks until he crashed onto the sidewalk at Amsterdam and W. 97th Street, where Ariel and her grandmother, Katia Gutierrez, were walking to Ariel’s school. Reyes hit them both, killing Ariel and injuring Gutierrez.

NYPD vehicle pursuits that result in death typically lead to serious charges for the people being chased. According to court records, Reyes pled guilty to manslaughter, assault, and two counts of fleeing police — all felonies. Gothamist reports that he was sentenced Friday.

“Ariel died a violent death because of your reckless behavior and you have not apologized,” said Sofia Russo, Ariel’s mother, in court. “You have shown no remorse.”

Nor has NYPD stopped engaging in car chases. NYPD policy says “a vehicle pursuit be terminated whenever the risks to uniformed members of the service and the public outweigh the danger to the community.” As in the case of Ariel Russo, and Karen Schmeer, and Violetta Kryzak, and Mary Celine Graham, many times a pursuit doesn’t end until the suspect crashes. In the wake of Ariel’s death, NYPD chases are still injuring and killing people.

NYPD hides police crash data from the public, so we don’t know exactly how much injury, loss of life, and property damage is caused every year due in part to the department’s open-ended pursuit policy. Stories about police pursuits that lead to injuries still surface regularly in the press. In March 2015 an unlicensed driver attempting to evade police killed Dave Jones on a sidewalk in Crown Heights.

By choosing to engage in a vehicular pursuit, police put the welfare of the public in the hands of the person they are chasing. It’s no surprise that, in a pedestrian-rich environment, the outcome is often worse than whatever crime the perpetrator is suspected of.

After NYPD pursuits caused a series of bystander deaths in 2009 and 2010, then-public advocate Bill de Blasio, prodded by Streetsblog founder Aaron Naparstek, indicated interest in investigating NYPD’s pursuit policy. If de Blasio followed through, he didn’t share details publicly.

Dave Jones’s death happened a year after de Blasio became mayor. At the time, the mayor’s office was dismissive when I asked about the crash that killed Jones and whether the pursuit conformed to NYPD protocol, replying only that the Collision Investigation Squad was investigating.

  • neroden

    Instead of chasing, the PD should photograph the plates, contact the person to whom the vehicle is registered, and track down the reckless driver from that end. Isn’t that why we *have* license plates?

    If the license plate has been removed or covered in mud, then I guess a chase may be the only way to track down the reckless driver, but otherwise not.

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