Evidence Suggests Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez Is Not Prosecuting Deadly Right of Way Violations

Twice in the past year, Gonzalez declined to charge drivers who killed cyclists for violating the victims’ right of way, though it appears charges were warranted under city law.

The scene of the crash that killed Kevin Flores. Video still: WNBC
The scene of the crash that killed Kevin Flores. Video still: WNBC

Two times in the past year, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez has declined to charge drivers who killed cyclists for violating the victims’ right of way, though available information suggests charges were warranted under city law. The DA’s office has ducked questions about who had the right of way in each case.

Last Friday Philip Monfoletto hit 13-year-old Kevin Flores with a Mack oil tanker truck while making a right turn from Lewis Avenue onto Jefferson Avenue in Bed-Stuy.

Both streets are one-way with one through-lane flanked by two lanes for parked cars. Neither street has a bike lane. The Post reported that Flores was riding ”alongside” the truck when Monfoletto struck him, which likely means Flores was the victim of a right hook.

NYPD and Gonzalez did not charge Monfoletto under Section 19-190 — also known as the Right of Way Law — a misdemeanor charge that applies when motorists in NYC harm people who are walking or biking with the right of way.

Section 19-190 is a vital piece of the city’s Vision Zero program. The Right of Way Law is intended to give NYPD and prosecutors a tool to hold motorists accountable for crashes police don’t witness — the type of crash that injures and kills thousands annually, yet for years rarely resulted in as much as a traffic ticket.

Monfoletto, 28, was driving without a valid license when he killed Flores, according to police. He has seven suspensions on his record and was caught driving with a suspended license as recently as December, the Daily News reported.

Gonzalez filed a top charge of third degree aggravated unlicensed operation, an unclassified misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Aggravated unlicensed operation is the same charge unlicensed drivers receive for minor traffic infractions.

“I don’t want this to ever happen again,” Flores’s mother, Margarita Flores, told the Post at her son’s wake. “I don’t want another child, another kid to die like this. And I’m going to fight for that.”

Gonzalez spokesperson Oren Yaniv did not respond when I asked who had the right of way in the crash.

Kevin Flores, Neftaly Ramirez, and Eric Gonzalez
Kevin Flores, Neftaly Ramirez, and Eric Gonzalez

Last summer an Action Carting worker killed Neftaly Ramirez, 27, as he biked on Franklin Street at Noble Street in Greenpoint, then left the scene.

As in Flores’s case, details provided by police and the press strongly suggest Ramirez was cycling lawfully when he was hit by an inattentive driver in a gigantic truck turning right at a signalized intersection.

The Action Carting worker, identified by the Brooklyn Paper as 63-year-old Jose Nunez, was summonsed for driving a garbage truck without the proper license, but was not charged with a crime. Yaniv did not answer when I asked who had the right of way in Ramirez’s case.

Gonzalez, who last month began his first full term as DA, became acting district attorney after the death of his boss Ken Thompson in the fall of 2016. During Gonzalez’s first full calendar year leading the office, motorists injured and killed 3,865 people walking and biking on Brooklyn streets.

Brooklyn was the only borough where traffic deaths did not decline in 2017, according to City Hall. If Gonzalez is not vigorously applying the Right of Way Law, its impact as a deterrent is diminished and victims and their loved ones don’t see justice done.

I asked Yaniv how many misdemeanor 19-190 cases the DA pursued last year. We’ll update this post if we get an answer.

  • neroden

    It’s always the DAs, isn’t it?

    DAs have too much power: power to let criminals get away with crimes, power to harass and railroad innocent people, and no accountability whatsoever due to “absolute immunity”…. except to the voters.

    It’s time to make DA elections contested.

  • Ken Dodd

    Where did the idea come from that the only credible witnesses are NYPD officers? It’s this painfully outdated and ignorant idea that the police are inherently more reliable and honest, when there is so much evidence to suggest that the polar opposite is true. I recall a few years ago coming across a horrible scene on the Upper East Side where a garbage truck had come tearing around a corner onto 1st Avenue without yielding to a young French woman who was crossing – he dragged her almost halfway to the next intersection and split her body in half. I saw two separate sheets. Everyone I spoke to there told me that the driver was “crazy” and had been driving “like a bat out of hell,” coming around the corner at high speed without any regard for human life. There were so many witnesses to the way he was driving, and yet (unsurprisingly) none of these witness accounts were considered and the NYPD declined to bring any charges related to her death. Oh, they charged the bastard with unlicensed driving though (just how many of these garbage truck drivers are unlicensed? There should be a citywide investigation).

    A couple of weeks later I came across a teary French lady and her husband putting up signs on First Avenue appealing for witnesses. I spoke to them, they were devastated. They told me that the NYPD had completely and utterly failed them, seemed totally uninterested in pursuing justice against the maniac who killed their girl, and so had flown to NYC to make their own case against the driver and the company who employed him. They told me they were absolutely blindsided by how unconcerned the NYPD and the DA they spoke to had been about what was certainly a case of manslaughter, and that it knocked them for six because they had always believed that New York cops were “heroes.” Boy, were they wrong.

  • ddartley

    Are there criminal laws on the books that penalize Action Carting for allowing Nunez to drive their truck?

  • John C.

    I called and spoke to ADA Matt Bennett on Tuesday about the killing of Kevin Flores – he said he couldn’t comment but listened to my concerns, took my name and number and said he’d get back to me. Crickets…
    The other question I had, because it’s hard to tell from the photo, is if the truck was equipped with the required crossover mirrors. Not that shithead driver would know how to use them….

  • Ken Dodd

    I suspect it will turn out that Nunez had a license when he was hired, subsequently lost it, and didn’t inform the company because he didn’t want to lose his job. The trouble is that there is no law requiring companies like Action Carting to carry out periodical driving record checks on employees. If they were a responsible company who gave a shit about human life, they would carry out these checks regardless of any legal requirements. But since they’re not a responsible company, they don’t. You’d think that when your entire company revolved around a fleet of extremely dangerous vehicles being driven around a densely populated metropolis, you would go out of your way to ensure that the people who drive those vehicles are responsible and legal. I guarantee the owners of Action Carting don’t give a shit about Neftaly or anyone else they’ve killed. And no city official who is responsible for the continuation of AC’s city contract can possibly claim to care about human life either. These stories are nothing more than a “nuisance” to the above parties.

  • Brad Aaron
  • Ken Dodd

    Thanks for digging that out. I’d forgotten her name, but I remember her face. At the time I found it extremely hard to believe that there was not a single camera on surrounding buildings which had the intersection at least partly in view. I do not recall any effort on the part of the NYPD to recover camera footage, and as we’ve seen it’s sometimes left to the efforts of the victim or their family to seek out footage. The NYPD’s idea of an “investigation” is a joke and seems to be limited to a quick interview with the driver at the scene, followed by lots of standing around and talking to each other about sports.

    When I was there I asked multiple people what had happened, and everyone used phrases like “bat out of hell,” “like a maniac” and “like a rally driver” to describe how he took the corner. Apparently the word of these ordinary peons means nothing in court, but if a police officer had witnessed it then of course that would be a “real” witness account according to NYC’s archaic justice system.

  • Did you guys her him speak on Brian Lehrer last week? Brian asks him about this directly, and he gets somewhat into it.

  • neroden

    NYPD is a crime gang, and I wouldn’t trust them as witnesses, because they’re criminals. There are far, far, far too many reports of major criminal behavior by NYPD “officers” who think they can get away with it, and usually do get away with it. Patrick Lynch, head of the totally corrupt “Fraternal Order of Police” crime gang, deliberately started police riots in the 1970s and belongs in prison for life at hard labor.

    Proper third-party witnesses can be trusted. But of course the NYPD crime gang members don’t want witnesses — crime gang members never want witnesses.

    Something has to be done to shut down this criminal gang.