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NYPD Could Have Taken Dorothy Bruns Off the Road Before She Killed 2 Kids, If Cops and DAs Cared About Traffic Violence

4:14 PM EDT on March 23, 2018

Photo: NY1

After Dorothy Bruns killed 4-year-old Abigail Blumenstein and 20-month-old Joshua Lew, the message from police and prosecutors was that authorities had no way to get her off the road before she caused irreversible harm.

Their argument goes like this: Since it's up to individual motorists to decide whether they're medically fit to drive, her multiple sclerosis and other conditions did not affect her ability to legally operate a motor vehicle. And though the car she was driving had previously been tagged eight times for running red lights and speeding in school zones, Bruns had a "clean" driving record, because the cameras technically observed a car, not a driver, and the tickets don’t result in license points.

But it's not true that Bruns did nothing to attract police attention before she killed two children. Months before the fatal Brooklyn crash, Bruns injured a woman walking in Long Island City and fled the scene, and NYPD did nothing about it, according to the Daily News.

The News said Bruns hit 28-year-old Brandy Williams last September as she crossed a street near Queensbridge Houses, running over her foot and injuring her wrist.

The News says a collision report was sent by housing bureau police to the 114th Precinct, which failed to take further action because a highway safety sergeant, Cynthia Rodriguez, didn't file paperwork that would have triggered an investigation. Since then, NYPD has relieved Rodriguez of that position and assigned her to patrol duty.

The angle of the Daily News piece is that, by investigating the hit-and-run, police would have been alerted to Bruns's medical history and driving record, and could have stopped her from driving, preventing the deaths of Abigail Blumenstein and Joshua Lew.

And that's how you'd hope things would play out. But Sergeants Benevolent Association president Ed Mullins told the News the disciplinary measures against Rodriguez were an "overreaction" -- because, according to Mullins, even if the crash had been investigated, the consequences for Bruns would have been negligible.

“Had she been caught two blocks later it would have been nothing more than a criminal court summons," said Mullins. "Even if they arrested her two months later, it would have been the same.”

On one hand, Mullins is basically saying an injury hit-and-run isn't worth investigating, and that there's nothing that can be done to stop people with dangerous medical conditions from driving.

On the other hand, Mullins -- inadvertently, one imagines -- told the truth about law enforcers' attitude toward traffic violence.

Five years into Vision Zero, NYPD still doesn't investigate the majority of injury-causing crashes. For hit-and-run drivers who kill people, the odds of avoiding arrest are in their favor. Even in cases where a driver who harms someone is suspected or known to have broken multiple laws -- including fleeing the scene of a deadly crash -- district attorneys often decline to pursue criminal charges.

Only a small fraction of hit-and-runs that injure people, the type of crash NYPD let Bruns get away with, lead to repercussions of any kind for the driver.

If police and prosecutors cared about traffic violence, they could have at minimum investigated the Williams crash, filed misdemeanor charges, and recommended sanctions against Bruns's license. We'll never know with certainty whether the lives of those two little kids would have been saved, but police never even tried to take steps that were within their power.

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