Why Was Killer Trucker Even on the Road? Because Public Officials Are Inept
12:01 AM EST on December 19, 2019
The truck driver who killed a 3-year-old boy in Harlem earlier this month had so many moving violations on his record that he should not have been on the road that day — and, in fact, was only able to get behind the wheel of his massive Ford F-250 because officials at every level of government have failed to act.
If there is a textbook example of someone who should not have been driving, it is Jaime Sabogal, the 59-year-old who has 20 previous moving violations, at least five crashes and at least two prior license suspensions, according to a police report obtained by Streetsblog — indeed, the license remained invalid when he ran over and killed Bertin DeJesus as his mom pushed him in a stroller across First Avenue near 116th Street on the morning of Dec. 9.
But he was still behind the wheel because no government agency took away his death machine. Indeed, even after he ran over and killed the boy, Sabogal was charged and released and issued a desk appearance ticket to appear in court on Dec. 27. He may even still be driving, despite his current suspended license.
“It shows our collective insanity,” said Marco Conner of Transportation Alternatives. “This is infuriating. With such a driving record of repeatedly and knowingly endangering others, this driver obviously should not have been allowed to operate a lethal multi-ton vehicle on city streets."
Sabogal is not alone, of course, in driving with a suspended license. The state Department of Motor Vehicles does not keep track of how many licenses it suspends each year, according to a spokesman. But it's estimated that officers issued more than 111,000 tickets in New York State for driving with a suspended license in 2017 — roughly nine percent of all tickets issued for driving infractions. Nor is Sabogal the only reckless driver out there — thousands of drivers are on the roads right now who have been caught on camera more than four times for serious moving violations in a single 12-month period.
That number is significant because those drivers are the target of a long-stalled City Council bill that would force authorities to tow away any car registered to someone who commits so many offenses in such a short time. The bill, called the Reckless Driver Accountability Act, is one of Transportation Alternatives' highest legislative priorities.
Impounding cars owned by recidivist drivers is "a proven solution," Conner said. "The Reckless Driver Accountability Act, which would require repeat dangerous drivers to undertake a safety course or have their vehicle confiscated, must be enacted without delay.”
For now, the proposal remains in legal limbo as the bill's sponsor, Brad Lander, and Mayor de Blasio's Law Department meet weekly to figure out how to make the legislation immune from the inevitable court challenges. Camera-issued tickets don't currently carry points against a driver's license because the camera can't be sure who was driving the car — so Lander's bill could lead to some people's cars being impounded before they have a right to prove in court that someone else was the maniac behind the wheel.
Even when the bill becomes law, police or the city sheriff will have to be aggressive in seizing thousands of cars per year from drivers like Sabogal. According to an internal police report obtained by Streetsblog, Sabogal has 20 moving violations over an unknown period of time — the exact infractions are unclear but the list of moving violations includes egregious recklessness such as speeding, using a cell phone, and failing to yield. He has also been involved in five prior crashes, though details of those were not immediately apparent. He's also been arrested at least seven times — one of which was for another aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle back in 2011, and another for using a stolen vehicle in 2004.
The state’s Department of Motor Vehicles confirmed only one of the prior crashes, and required Streetsblog to file a freedom of information request to get its details. The agency also said Sabogal had four moving violations in 2017, including for failing to stop at a stop sign and turning improperly.
A spokesman for the Department of Motor Vehicle said that certain violations and crashes prior to a certain date are not public information as they are are no longer included on a person’s record.
The most recent infractions on Sabogal’s record wouldn't necessarily have been enough to trigger Lander’s bill, since it's unclear how many tickets he received in any given 12-month period — but no one with Sabogal's record should be driving, let alone driving a truck that weights 6,000 pounds, and it’s crucial that the city not wait to take drivers like him off the road before another kid is dead, advocates said.
“It's outrageous. Anyone with 20 violations, five prior crashes and a suspended license who keeps driving needs to have their car towed or confiscated,” said Amy Cohen, who co-founded Families for Safe Streets after her 12-year-old son was killed by a driver in 2013. “Our streets are filled with blood. We have a preventable epidemic. We cannot wait endlessly for solutions.”
Cops arrested Sabogal for only minor charges that come with at most 30 days behind bars, including failure to yield and failure to exercise due care, and aggravated unlicensed operation — which typically carries just a fine because state law currently doesn't charge people more harshly if they kill someone with a suspended license as opposed to a valid license.
Sabogal is one of at least two drivers so far this year who killed a kid while driving without a valid license, for which they'll get little more than a slap on the wrists. The first was in October, when 29-year-old Victor Mejia ran over and killed 10-year-old Dalerjon Shahobiddinov, as he was biking near his Brooklyn home.
Cops similarly charged Mejia with driving without a license, failure to yield and failure to exercise due care. But despite both of their recklessness that led to the deaths of two children, state law does not even set aside a higher penalty for unlicensed drivers who kill.
But one Queens lawmaker wants to change that — State Senator Michael Gianaris proposed legislation that would impose harsher penalties on unlicensed drivers who kill. They could face up to seven years in prison if they kill someone while driving with a suspended license because of prior driving infractions, like another crash where they were proven to be at fault, or speeding or going through a red light, not for merely failing to pay a parking ticket or child support, according to Gianaris’s office.
And another pair of pols, together with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, proposed a bill back in October that would finally give prosecutors the ability to criminally charge motorists who kill with high-level misdemeanors that come with real jail sentences.
DeJesus is the third 3-year-old killed this year following Emur Shavkator, who was killed by a candy truck driver in Brooklyn in May; and Mardichai Yovits who was killed by an SUV driver in Queens in September. At least six kids 10-years-old or younger have been killed so far this year by drivers. And overall, drivers have killed at least 205 people so far this year, up about 7 percent from the same period last year, according to city stats.
Specifically in Manhattan, where DeJesus was killed, drivers have killed at least 21 people and injured thousands more from Jan. 1 through mid-November of this year. But Vance prosecuted just 15 of them.
Julianne Cuba joined Streetsblog in February, 2019, after three years covering local news and politics at The Brooklyn Paper. There, she also covered the notoriously reckless private carting industry and hit-and-runs. A 2015 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism Master’s Program, she lives in Brooklyn. Julianne is on Twitter at @julcuba. Email Julianne at firstname.lastname@example.org
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