Legislator Refuses To Back Safety Measures at Vigil for Dead Child
A rally in Midwood shows the fecklessness of Brooklyn Council Member Chaim Deutsch.
Brooklyn Council Member Chaim Deutsch had nothing but “thoughts and prayers” at a vigil Thursday night in response to the deadly crash that this week claimed the life of a child in his district.
Asked by Streetsblog if he would sign on to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson’s bill creating a master plan for for street safety, Deutsch said: “I have to study it more.”
“You can’t make one plan for an entire city,” he extemporized. “Every neighborhood needs to be looked at independently in how to make those traffic changes. One size does not fit all, and we need to take a look closely at each area.”
Deutsch also professed himself unfamiliar with his colleague Brad Lander’s Reckless Driver Accountability Act, which would impound the vehicles belonging to drivers who rack five or more speed camera violations in a single year, despite being a co-sponsor of the bill.
“I have to look at the bill and see. We have like hundreds of bills in the City Council. I have to take a look at it — call me tomorrow and I’ll take a look at it,” said Deutsch, who moments earlier had stood next to the dead child’s parents.
Deutsch clarified on Friday that he does support Lander’s Reckless Driver Accountability Act since he is “signed on to it,” adding that he was not in the right head space to answer questions from the press at the vigil to which press was invited.
Deutsch’s remarks came as activists and family members of 10-year-old Enzo Farachio gathered down the street from the bus stop on Ocean Avenue and Avenue L where the child was killed on Tuesday. The grade-schooler never had a chance after driver Alexander Katchaloft, 59, jumped the sidewalk with his SUV, plowing into him.
On Wednesday, Deutsch made some feints toward action, telling Bklyner that he planned to help Farachio’s father “use the terrible tragedy that he suffered to bring about change on the streets of New York City.” At Thursday’s vigil, Deutsch again said that he would work to make the streets safer.
“We need to take this pain and turn it into purpose, we’re going to do whatever we can and we will a find solution for the epidemic that is causing these fatalities across our city,” Deutsch said about the rash of pedestrian deaths across the city.
But when asked what he was going to do to create safer streets, Deutsch refused to support any legislation, instead claiming that he was making change as an individual.
“I took a big step, I gave up my own personal car, just yesterday,” Deutsch said. “And I’m going to be taking mass transit as much as I can. At times I’m going to be using a family member’s car, but I’m going to make an example to others, that if you can take mass transit, leave your car at home and take mass transit. If we can cut driving by 50 percent or 75 percent or 25 percent then we accomplish something.”
Just moments before Deutsch shied away from legislative action, Johnson told the assembled press and mourners that there had to be more than “thoughts and prayers.”
“I promise you tonight in the wake of this soul-crushing tragedy I promise you tonight we will pass [the master plan bill] and we will pass it soon and completely rethink how we plan our city streets to protect children and people across New York City. We cannot just give our thoughts and prayers and condolences, they need to be backed up by action,” Johnson said.
Deutsch also rankled activists by repeatedly referring to the crash that killed Farachio as “a tragic accident,” instead of a crash.
“We say crash, not accident, because these things are preventable. And he said the word accident at least four times,” Families for Safe Streets member Jane Martin-Lavaud, who tried to correct Deutsch as he spoke at the vigil, said in frustration afterward.
Street-safety activists have waged a long campaign to strike the word “accident” from the traffic violence conversation, because it implies a lack of responsibility for collisions that result in death and injury and suggests the incidents are random and unpreventable. But the Midwood Council Member suggested that this crash, which is still under investigation by police who said Katchaloft suffered a “medical incident” while driving, could well have been an excusable situation.
“Every accident is investigated by the NYPD, and we need to determine what was the result of this accident,” Deutsch said. “At the end of the day, no one should be killed waiting at a bus stop. An accident can be, if someone has an aneurysm or a medical condition as opposed to driving recklessly and speeding and killing someone or hurting someone.”
Dorothy Bruns, who killed two children in Park Slope in 2018 after she suffered a seizure while driving her car, was still indicted for manslaughter after an investigation disclosed that she ignored doctor’s orders not to drive. Like Bruns, who had a history of reckless driving, Katchaloft racked up four tickets between 2017 and 2019 for speeding in a school zone.
Update: This story has been updated to reflect comments from Council Member Deutsch on the Reckless Driver Accountability Act.