How Seriously Does Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez Take Hit-and-Run Killings?

In keeping with prior lenient plea deals, Gonzalez offered as little 16 months in jail to the driver accused of killing Jean Paul Guerrero and fleeing the scene in 2016.

Jean Paul Guerrero and Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez
Jean Paul Guerrero and Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez

In about a year-and-a-half as the borough’s top prosecutor, Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez has accrued a record of lenient plea deals for motorists who kill people and flee the scene.

He may soon add another case to the list: Yesterday, Gonzalez offered a sentence of 16 months to four years in prison to the man accused of killing Jean Paul Guerrero in Cypress Hills.

The driver of a Nissan sedan fatally struck Guerrero, 39, on Jamaica Avenue near Sheffield Avenue in the early morning hours of December 19, 2016. Guerrero was a radio personality known as DJ Jinx Paul. His death got considerable media attention, and was the impetus for NYC’s new hit-and-run alert system, spearheaded by City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez.

Kevin Ozoria turned himself in a few days after the crash, but was not arrested until November 2017. Gonzalez charged Ozoria, 29, with leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death, a class D felony.

Ozoria was also charged with evidence tampering, a class E felony. The impact with Guerrero’s body punched a hole in the car’s windshield, and Ozoria allegedly had it repaired shortly after the collision.

Gonzalez did not charge Ozoria for the act of taking Guerrero’s life.

The leaving the scene charge carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison. The Daily News reported that the Gonzalez plea offer “angered several of Guerrero’s relatives and supporters” who, along with Rodriguez, assembled for Ozoria’s Wednesday court appearance.

Gonzalez’s decision to present what has been described as a “generous plea deal,” rather than take the case to trial, is consistent with how the DA has handled other hit-and-run fatalities:

  • April 2017: Gonzalez signs off on probation and a $500 fine for Joseph Zayats, who hit 64-year-old Krystyna Iwanowicz with a Jeep SUV as she crossed Avenue J with a walker, and fled the scene on foot as she lay dying in the street.
  • May 2017: Gonzalez agrees to a six-month jail term for Brian Young, who ran over 28-year-old Francis Perez as the victim was out buying snacks for his young son. As part of the deal, Young, who did not have a valid drivers license when he killed Perez, was eligible to regain his driving privileges after two years just by filling out DMV paperwork.
  • November 2017: Pursuant to a deal with Gonzalez, unlicensed driver Efrin Lanfranco-Perez gets as little as a year in jail for fatally striking Delmer Maldonado and Israel Turcios as he sped down Fulton Street. Lanfranco-Perez ran away from the scene. “I don’t understand how he got so little time,” Milli Muniz, Maldonado’s partner of 16 years, told Streetsblog. Muniz said the victims’ loved ones were pressured by prosecutors to accept the deal. “I don’t feel like there’s justice,” she said.

In at least one instance, Gonzalez declined to pursue a case against a motorist who killed someone and kept driving. In July 2017 an Action Carting worker ran over Neftaly Ramirez, 27, as he biked on Franklin Street at Noble Street in Greenpoint, then left the scene. The driver, identified as Jose Nunez, was summonsed for driving a garbage truck without the proper license. But Gonzalez decided against seeking justice for Ramirez and his family, and filed no criminal charges.

Kevin Ozoria initially rejected Gonzalez’s plea yesterday, according to News 12, but the Brooklyn Eagle reported that his attorney told the judge he “wants to finish investigating the evidence given to him before making a final decision.”

In the meantime, Ozoria is free on $7,500 bail. His next court appearance is scheduled for June 13.

In 2017, Gonzalez’s first full calendar year leading the DA’s office, drivers injured and killed 3,865 people walking and biking in Brooklyn. Brooklyn was the only borough where traffic deaths did not decline last year, according to City Hall.

  • Erik Engquist

    Outrage is a justifiable response when our justice system does little or nothing to drivers who mow people down. However, it doesn’t necessarily follow that stiffer penalties will result in better driving. Harsh punishment did not seem to have much of a deterrent effect on the selling and using of illegal drugs from the 1970s to today.
    On the other hand, corruption is certainly worse in nations where government officials routinely get away with it. So it would be good to see more data on how punishment of drivers who maim and kill affects fatality rates. My guess is it would have a modest effect, especially by preventing dangerous drivers from becoming repeat offenders like the woman who killed two children in Park Slope earlier this year (and remains uncharged by Gonzalez, who is continuing to investigate that sickening tragedy).
    I do think that the biggest gains in traffic safety will come from redesign of our streets (and eventually from automated vehicles). The folks who are seeking justice for victims are also pushing for street redesign, so kudos to them.

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