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When Will Albany Act to Strengthen Hit-and-Run Penalties?

City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, center, and other officials called on the motorist who killed Jean Paul Guerrero to surrender to police. Rodriguez again urged Albany legislators to reform laws that reward drivers for fleeing the scene of serious crashes. Photo: Office of Council Member Rodriguez

City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez and other Upper Manhattan electeds joined friends and family of Jean Paul Guerrero yesterday to urge lawmakers to reform state law that incentivizes deadly hit-and-run crashes.

According to police, a woman driving a black Nissan Maxima fatally struck Guerrero, a popular DJ with a young son, on Jamaica Avenue near Sheffield Avenue in Brooklyn at around 4 a.m. Monday. NYPD released video of the motorist driving away from the scene.

"New York has lost another treasured soul to violence on our streets," said Rodriguez in a statement. "This senseless violence must end and I will soon be releasing a plan for tackling this epidemic because one more death is too many. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Guerrero's family in this time of despair."

guerrero--jean-paul
Jean Paul Guerrero, a.k.a. DJ Jinx Paul. Photo: Facebook
Jean Paul Guerrero, a.k.a. DJ Jinx Paul. Photo: Facebook

At a press conference near Guerrero’s Harlem home, Rodriguez -- joined by Assembly Member-Elect Carmen De La Rosa, State Senator-Elect Marisol Alcantara, and Congressman-Elect Adriano Espaillat -- said he will soon introduce City Council legislation to “create a reward fund to assist the NYPD” in apprehending hit-and-run drivers.

Rodriguez again called on Albany to reform state law that serves to benefit drunk drivers who flee the scene of a serious crash. Currently the penalty for hit-and-run can be less severe than the penalty for drunk drivers who injure or kill someone and remain at the scene.

While Rodriguez didn't cite a specific bill, A7785, sponsored by Staten Island Assembly Member Michael Cusick, and twin bill S2136, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, would elevate penalties by changing the charge for leaving the scene of a serious injury from a class E to a class D felony, and the charge for a fatal hit-and-run from a class D felony to class C. (Class E is New York’s least severe felony category.) This approach is favored by prosecutors and traffic safety advocates. Flanagan’s bill passed the Senate in 2015 and 2016 but stalled twice in the Assembly transportation committee.

(Aside: The Daily News incorrectly implied that Rodriguez backs legislation to create the offense of aggravated leaving the scene, a worse-than-nothing bill that Governor Cuomo spiked last year at the urging of district attorneys and advocates.)

With no help forthcoming at the state level, in recent years the City Council and Mayor de Blasio have adopted legislation to impose civil penalties on hit-and-run drivers and require NYPD to release data on hit-and-run collisions. But changing state law would be much more effective in deterring hit-and-run crashes that kill dozens of New Yorkers a year.

Rodriguez said motorists cause an average of around 40,000 hit-and-run crashes annually, the Daily News reported, and kill around one victim per week. "We need Albany to act," he said.

Alcantara has aligned with the Independent Democratic Conference, which holds sway in the State Senate.

As an Assembly member in the majority party, De La Rosa will also be in a position to help.

"We must fix our laws so that families are not forced to go without their loved ones so close to the holiday season," De La Rosa said in a statement. "I look forward to going up to Albany and furthering the goals of pedestrian safety in our state capitol."

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