Citing Erroneous NYPD Report, State DMV Judge Declines to Take Action Against Driver Who Killed Lauren Davis

The officer assigned to the hearing didn't show up.

Lauren Davis was killed by a turning driver on Classon Avenue last April. Photo: Family of Lauren Davis
Lauren Davis was killed by a turning driver on Classon Avenue last April. Photo: Family of Lauren Davis

The family of Lauren Davis is reeling after a judge at the state Department of Motor Vehicles declined to take action against the motorist who struck and killed her on Classon Avenue last year.

Davis, 34, was biking northbound on Classon Avenue on April 15, when Jennine Chung ran her over at the intersection with Lexington Avenue. Initial police reports said Davis was biking against the direction of traffic when she was struck, but those were later revoked and amended after eyewitness testimony proved otherwise.

Chung was making a left on Lexington from Classon when she struck Davis, according to the corrected police report, indicating that she violated her right-of-way. She was eventually charged with failure to exercise due care, a mere traffic infraction.

Chung was separately cited for failure-to-yield to a pedestrian in February 2016, just two months before the fatal crash.

The DMV is supposed to hold safety hearings for motorists involved in fatal crashes. But the hearings don’t always happen, and even when they do, the outcomes are inconsistent: Judges will suspend or revoke some motorists’ licenses, but not others, with little rhyme or reason.

Davis’s mother, sister, and brother traveled from California to attend today’s hearing, and said they had been told by the NYPD Highway Patrol detective investigating the crash that he would also be there. He never showed up, and for some reason Judge Jettie Thomas only had the preliminary, incorrect police report for reference. Thomas told the Davises that that was all NYPD had passed on to the DMV.

When Davis’s mother, Lana Norton Davis, spoke to correct the victim-blaming account, Thomas would not let her. “You’re not allowed to participate,” she said. “You’re invited here as a courtesy.” Thomas proceeded to read the erroneous report.

Chung’s lawyer cited the incorrect report to argue that “the facts simply don’t establish that the motorist violated the law.”

The full, 100-page Highway Patrol report that Davis’s family has on file is not only correct, but extensive, including pictures of the crash scene, video surveillance records, and eyewitness interviews. Thomas declined to consider it, however, eventually adjourning without a decision due to lack of information.

“Ms. Chung, I’m sorry for your problems and I’m sorry that this is being stretched out,” Thomas said. “I understand that you want to deal with this, but unfortunately I feel that I can’t make a decision based on the documents in my file. I don’t think I can do justice for anyone without having someone from NYPD appear to provide additional information.”

A date has yet to be scheduled for the follow-up hearing. Chung is up for a separate DMV hearing in June, concerning the charge for failure to exercise due care.

“We’re feeling humiliated,” Davis’s sister Danielle told Streetsblog. “Our family is absolutely insulted by what has happened today. If we hadn’t been there, and no one had been there to represent Lauren, Lauren would have been blamed, and that is so wrong.”

“I can’t sit there and have someone tarnish my daughter’s name,” said Lana Norton Davis. Throughout the morning’s proceeding, Norton Davis said Thomas was dismissive toward her, declining to shake her hand while apologizing to Chung multiple times for the “inconvenience” of being held accountable for reckless driving.

“How do you get the final police report in the judge’s hands so she has the right information?” said Norton Davis. “How in world does [the judge] have the wrong information? It’s beyond belief.”

Two years ago, members of Families for Safe Streets called on the DMV, which is under the jurisdiction of Governor Cuomo, to overhaul its process for responding to fatal traffic crashes. The Davises’ experience this morning indicates that DMV hasn’t changed much since then, if at all.

  • neroden

    The DMV can be sued civilly requesting a writ of mandamus *ordering* them to (a) provide accurate reports, not phony and dishonest police reports, to the administrative hearing, and (b) prosecute the administrative hearing actively rather than sandbagging it.

    I don’t think anyone has tried preemptively suing the DMV to force them to do their job. It would have to be someone with deep pockets. It would probably work, though. They’d be spooked.

  • Joe R.

    And they could borrow Saudi Arabia’s chief executioner for that. Big scary guy with a huge sword. If one or two beheadings with that guy doesn’t scare the rest of the force straight then nothing will.

  • neroden

    And in this case, the judge didn’t even admit the accurate copy of the file in the hearing.

    How about a lawsuit against the DMV to force the issuance of a writ of mandamus *ordering* them to get an *accurate* file before going to the hearings? Is that viable?

    Also, how about a lawsuit against the Collision Investigation Squad for a writ of mandamus *ordering* them to provide the complete investigative file to the hearing?

    The particular sort of corruption we’re seeing here seems like it’s exactly what the writ of mandamus was designed for.

  • cjstephens

    You’re wrong on the law here. Yes, a license is a privilege, not a right. However, when the state wants to revoke a license it has issued, the burden shifts to the state to justify that administrative action.

  • cjstephens

    You’re conflating principles of criminal law with what was going on at an administrative hearing. They’re completely different animals. The victim’s family was not a party to this proceeding. They can take the killer to a court in a different forum, not this one. The family deserves its day in court, but this wasn’t the day and this wasn’t the court. The judge here did the right thing.

  • cjstephens

    Do you realize this was an administrative hearing, not a court proceeding? Administrative law judges are not the same as “regular” judges, and their powers are quite different.

  • Bobbi Koval

    Read Emma Whits article regarding the DMV fatality hearing for my son. Look at The Gothamist. The driver had 4 infractions leading to a 90 day license suspension. No tickets issued…No police reports provided to the DMV Administrative Law Judge

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