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Aggressive Driving

Kill a Woman With a Gun? Twenty Years to Life. Kill a Woman With a Car? A $750 Fine.

12:01 AM EST on November 14, 2019

As a politician, Manhattan DA Cy Vance has put forward a great bill to hold drivers accountable. As a prosecutor, he has failed to do so consistently. Photo: Adam Schultz

The truck driver who hit and killed a 27-year-old woman in February will walk away with a fine and no jail time, thanks to the same Manhattan District Attorney who now claims he wants to hold "drivers who injure or kill accountable.”

Steven McDermott fatally struck Sarah Foster on Feb. 15 after he failed to yield to her as he made a left turn from Third Avenue onto E. 37th a little before 6 a.m. District Attorney Cy Vance charged the Approved Oil delivery driver with failure to yield and failure to exercise due care — weak charges that carry a maximum of 30 days in jail.

But on Tuesday, after McDermott pleaded guilty to the failure to yield charge, Vance’s office recommended that he spend not a single day behind bars, citing an otherwise clean record. Instead, the DA asked the court to sentence him to a $750 fine, a six-month license revocation and completion of a driving program for reckless drivers.

“Despite the fact that a young woman was killed and it is a serious case, the People recognize the defendant has never been arrested, which is why we are not recommending jail time,” the DA's office stated onto the record during Tuesday's court hearing.

But Vance's Vehicular Violence Accountability Act — which would give prosecutors the ability to criminally charge motorists who kill so that they face real jail sentences — has no provision for reckless drivers who have never been arrested before.

The bill would make it a high-level misdemeanor to kill or seriously injure someone with a car, period. It would replace the current system, which makes it difficult to secure convictions against many reckless drivers because prosecutors currently have to prove that the driver had willful reckless intent. Going forward, the burden of proof would be lowered to merely showing a jury that the driver was careless, an easier case to make.

Violating one of the 25 moving violations listed in the bill — such as speeding, driving on the sidewalk, failing to turn safely, or talking on the phone — would be enough to show that the driver’s actions caused the death or serious injuries of another person, and could land them in jail for at least a year.

Police did not indicate that McDermott was speeding, and phone records showed he was not on the phone during the time of the fatal collision, according to the DA's office. But McDermott did tell police that he "(doesn't) know if I could see the pedestrian light signal," which detectives said "showed a symbol of a flashing orange upraised hand," after watching surveillance video.

"I observed the defendant make the left turn crossing into the crosswalk where Ms. Foster was clearly walking," Police Officer Frank Cardamone wrote in the complaint.

Both the defense and prosecution had come to an agreement about the the recommendation, according to the DA’s office. The judge in the case could throw out the plea arrangement, but that's unlikely.

Vance has a history of inconsistent prosecutorial decisions that safe-street activists have rebuked before — he declined to press criminal charges against the cab driver who hit and killed 9-year-old Cooper Stock, who was walking in the crosswalk with his father on the Upper West Side in 2014; later that year, Vance agreed to a plea arrangement so that an unlicensed driver who fatally struck a senior as she crossed the street with the right of way only had to pay a $400 fine; and in 2016, he dropped a right-of-way violation against a truck driver who killed a senior on the Upper East Side two years earlier.

Foster’s bereaved parents are expected to speak at McDermott’s sentencing on April 22, 2020.

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