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.
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.