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Three Drivers Have Gotten Away With Murder on Northern Boulevard This Year

4:16 PM EDT on October 10, 2018

NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan, right, on Northern Boulevard this morning. Photo: David Meyer

Killer drivers, have no fear — the NYPD has your back.

Five drivers have struck and killed four people on Northern Boulevard so far this year, but police arrested and charged only two, NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan said on Wednesday. The charges were for failure to yield in the January death of 82-year-old Myriam Nino and for fleeing the scene after the killing of 9-year-old Giovanni Ampuero.

The other two incidents, on May 21 and September 8, have not resulted in any charges. The September collision that killed 70-year-old Francisco Avila involved two drivers: a 31-year-old male who first struck Avila in the crosswalk and a mini-van driver who fled after striking Avila and has not been caught.

The three uncharged drivers have gotten off scot-free, despite recklessness that cut short promising lives and permanently scarred families. It is unclear how many — if any — of the drivers who killed three people along the same stretch in 2017 were charged. (Chan declined to take follow-up questions from this reporter.)

Despite that shocking record, Chan attended a press conference along Northern Boulevard to champion the NYPD's partnership with the Department of Transportation to improve safety along the corridor between the Grand Central Parkway and the Queensboro Bridge. Chan said there would be increased enforcement against speeding and failure-to-yield — both minor charges. Activists are convinced that low charges — or no charges at all — are sending drivers the wrong message.

“I feel like I can’t keep my kids safe," said Jackson Heights parent and Make Queens Safer co-founder Cristina Furlong. "It’s become a complete free-for-all, and no matter what I teach my son, I can’t keep him safe from entitled drivers who know they’re not going to be penalized.”

Even when charges are filed, justice is not necessarily served.

Karen Manrique, Giovanni Ampuero's mother, said the trial for the 86-year-old driver who killed her son has been delayed multiple times. The driver remains free as he awaits trial for fleeing the scene and failing to yield — neither of which are consistently treated severely by law enforcement.

"If [NYPD] would have taken it seriously, the guy would be in jail," Manrique said. "I don’t care [about the driver's] age. My son was only 9-years-old, and we were one block away from our house. And the family or [the driver] have not even apologized for what they did to my family."

Thanks to fixes to Queens Boulevard, Northern Boulevard, with its many yellow dots for crashes and three red dots for fatalities, has become Queens's new "Boulevard of Death."
Northern Boulevard has become Queens's new "Boulevard of Death." The yellow dots indicate injuries, while the red dots mark the spot of the four fatalities this year alone.

On the plus side, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg indicated that Northern Boulevard between Queens Plaza and the Grand Central Parkway will undergo a "comprehensive redesign" similar to what DOT did on Queens Boulevard, where fatalities dropped from 195 between 1990 and 2015 to just one motor vehicle passenger (and no pedestrians or cyclists) since the redesign. That process on Northern will begin this month with a series of community meetings.

DOT has done some minor tweaks along Northern Boulevard in the five or so years since Mayor de Blasio took office, including installing 17 concrete medians along the western segment. Trottenberg admitted that those changes have fallen short of making the street truly safe.

"We need to do a lot more," she told reporters. "We have not done the kind of comprehensive redesign we did on Queens Boulevard, but I think you’re hearing from the assembled group here that people are ready to do that, and that’s what we’re about to undertake."

That effort has apparently picked up a new ally: Assembly Member Michael DenDekker, who once called Vision Zero "a waste of money."

DenDekker still asserts that the city's top traffic-safety priority should be to improve intersections by stopping cars in all directions for a period of pedestrian-only crossing, a scheme called a Barnes Dance after its creator, the 20th-century traffic engineer Henry Barnes. This time, DenDekker did express his support for a "complete redesign."

"There’s no doubt about it, it has to be done," DenDekker said. "A whole part of that redesign is fixing the signals. If not, I’m sure everything else will help. The left-hand turn calming barrier that they put up [are] helpful. If we had islands instead, or protected bike lanes instead, to be that barrier, I’m fine with that."

The first of DOT's "community workshops" regarding the future of Northern Boulevard is next Monday, Oct. 15, ag 6:30 at Louis Armstrong Middle School (32-02 Junction Blvd. in East Elmhurst). For info on this meeting, and two upcoming gatherings, visit DOT's online feedback portal.

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