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Brooklyn Pedestrian Killed by Repeatedly Reckless Driver Backing Into his Driveway

7:51 AM EST on March 7, 2019

This is the car that a driver used to kill Stella Clinton last year. Photo: Ben Verde

An 85-year-old Brooklyn woman was struck and killed on Wednesday by an SUV driver who backed into her as he reversed into his driveway, cops said.

The driver — who has a long record of reckless driving — was not ticketed for the illegal act of backing his massive Toyota Highlander into the driveway at 2965 Avenue S in Marine Park — a move that led to the death of Stella Clinton, cops said.

According to police, Clinton was at that location at about 4:18 p.m., walking towards her Gerritsen Avenue home when she was struck by the 49-year-old driver. Streetsblog ran the driver's plate through the seminal violations bot, How's My Driving NY, and discovered that the car had been flagged for 31 tickets since 2013, including 10 speed camera violations and running two red lights.

"There are no arrests and the investigation is ongoing," police said in a statement. (The driver, reached by Streetsblog, declined to comment.)

It is unclear why the driver was not issued a citation given that he — police did not release the driver’s name — was moving in reverse, which puts an even greater legal responsibility on the driver.

"This is a case with absolute liability for the driver, both in the civil sense and in the criminal sense," said lawyer Steve Vaccaro, who often represents victims of road violence. "There should not be any delay in wrapping up this investigation and charging the driver."

Vaccaro cited New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law, section 1211, which explicitly states, "The driver of a vehicle shall not back the same unless such movement can be made with safety and without interfering with other traffic."

"Police never pay attention to either half of that, but mostly not to the second standard," Vaccaro added. "You can’t back up unless you can do it safely. So if you kill someone doing it, that’s fucked up to begin with. But you also can’t back up on a roadway without interfering with other traffic. That means other traffic, pedestrian or otherwise, has the absolute right of way. And that means before backing up, you must make a search to see if there is any other traffic that you might interfere with before backing. This driver clearly did not do that."

Vaccaro also cited another part of the state traffic law, section 1225-a, which specifically bars driving on sidewalks faster than 5 mph or in a manner that would "interfere with the safety and passage of pedestrians thereon, who shall have the right of way."

"That sidewalk driving statute says you can’t interfere with pedestrians and explicitly that the pedestrian has the right of way," Vaccaro said. "And it explicitly states the speed. It is conceivable that the driver in this case might have been going at that speed, but I have my doubts."

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than half a million backing crashes happen each year, causing 30,000 injuries and roughly 300 deaths. Many of these crashes could have been avoided if the drivers were more aware of the dangers of driving in reverse and knew the appropriate techniques to offset the hazards, said Tony Douglas, president and CEO of Smith System, a driver training course.

“Backing crashes are one of the most common because drivers tend to let their guard down when driving in reverse,” said Douglas said recently. “Since they’re not traveling at a high rate of speed, drivers often lose their focus, and focus is always critical for safety. Backing and parking are moments when drivers need to focus their full attention on the driving environment.”

The NHTSA report stated that drivers of vehicles with high back ends such as an Audi SUV have much longer blind spots than drivers of smaller cars.

“Pickup trucks and utility vehicles are overrepresented in backover fatalities and injuries when compared to non-backing traffic injury crashes,” the report stated. “In fact, utility vehicles and pickups are involved in an estimated 61 percent of backover fatalities even though they only account for 29 percent of vehicles in non-backing traffic injury crashes.”

This story was updated at 10 a.m. to include more legal background.

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