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Aggressive Driving

Brooklyn DA Let Killer Driver Off The Hook for No Reason

12:01 AM EST on February 3, 2020

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

The reckless driver who killed an elderly woman as he was backing into his driveway last year was let go without punishment — and is still racking up an astounding number of tickets for reckless driving — thanks to indifferent Brooklyn prosecutors who dropped the case and didn't even say why.

The stunning turn of events date back to March 27, 2019, when police arrested 49-year-old John Sherman for striking and killing 85-year-old Stella Clinton as he reversed into his driveway on Avenue S in Marine Park a few weeks earlier. Sherman was charged with failure to yield, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum of 30 days behind bars and a $250 fine.

But last month, Brooklyn prosecutors dropped the case, choosing not to prosecute Sherman and letting the charges expire under the state's so-called speedy trial rule, according to the lawyer for the Clinton family, Steve Vaccaro.

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez's spokesman Oren Yaniv declined to comment on why the case was dropped, citing the fact that it is now sealed (which is convenient).

Vaccaro was outraged that the case was tossed.

"They dropped the ball [and] let it expire," he said. "The case was dismissed because the DA didn't give it the attention and resources that it needed."

A spokesman for the Brooklyn District Attorney's office said Gonzalez is committed to holding drivers like Sherman accountable but must do so while following the law.

“Our office cares about every loss of life and has been aggressive in prosecuting reckless and distracted drivers. But we also must comply with every aspect of the law," the spokesman said.

But it's still unclear why the prosecutor would choose not to follow through with the charges against Sherman for the slam-dunk right-of-way case. But as a result, Sherman, a reckless driver and killer, is free to continue endangering the public.

His car — with the vanity plate 4SHERMS — has been slapped with seven speeding tickets and one red light ticket since the day he killed Clinton.

4sherms record

The audacity of this driver since he killed the elderly woman on March 6 should shock the conscience of the city:

    • Sherman's car was flagged on March 25 for speeding in a school zone on Staten Island.
    • He got another speeding ticket on May 9 near his home.
    • He got a camera-issued red light ticket on May 19 in Staten Island.
    • He got a speeding ticket on July 23 near his home.
    • He got a speeding ticket on Sept. 30 near his home.
    • He got a speeding ticket on Oct. 14 in Bensonhurst.
    • He got a speeding ticket on Jan. 8 in Brooklyn.

He also got four parking tickets since killing Clinton, which are also posted on How's My Driving, the indispensable database. All of that comes on top Sherman's reckless record before he crushed Clinton with his Toyota Highlander: 10 camera-issued tickets for speeding and two for blowing through a red light.

Experts see the case of John Sherman as a perfect example of the failures of the legal system in keeping dangerous drivers off the road.

“The right-of-way law represents the slightest slap on the wrist for negligently or recklessly killing another person with your car, especially for this repeat dangerous driver," said Marco Conner of Transportation Alternatives. "The fact that even this charge was dismissed shows the utter failure of our system to send the message that when you operate a multi-ton car you must provide the utmost care to avoid harming others."

It’s hard to comprehend how prosecutors could have let the case against Sherman expire, given his driving record and the fact that car operators have a greater legal responsibility when they are driving backwards or across sidewalks.

“This is a case with absolute liability for the driver, both in the civil sense and in the criminal sense,” Vaccaro told Streetsblog at the time. “There should not be any delay in wrapping up this investigation and charging the driver.”

He got it half right — the driver was, indeed, charged by cops. But then the case was dismissed — as are more than half of all right-of-way cases, City Limits reported last year.

“Multiple local and state law provisions establish unequivocally that the 85-year-old victim had the right of way last year on the sidewalk, which should be sacred pedestrian space," said Conner. "Despite the unacceptable fact that a majority of (Right of Way law) charges are dropped, I am in utter disbelief that this charge was dismissed."

It's particularly ironic, given that Gonzalez sees himself as a fighter for street safety.

“I am committed to doing my part to promote safety and will continue to investigate cases of vehicular violence and bring criminal charges whenever they are supported by the facts and the law," the prosecutor said when announcing charges against the teen driver who ran a red light and slammed into another car at high-speed, causing it to hit and kill Jose Alzorriz last year.

Gonzalez did charge that driver, 18-year-old Mirza Baig, with manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, vehicular assault, and reckless endangerment as a result of the Aug. 11 crash, but dismissing the case against Sherman is not the first time Gonzalez has opened himself up to criticism for failing to prosecute a killer driver — over the summer, Gonzalez announced he wouldn't prosecute the hit-and-run driver who killed 25-year-old Aurilla Lawrence in Williamsburg last February, citing insufficient evidence to convince a jury of the fleeing driver’s recklessness; and in another high-profile cyclist fatality case, Gonzalez similarly declined to prosecute the hit-and-run private sanitation truck driver who killed 27-year-old Neftaly Ramirez in Greenpoint in 2017.

Attempts to reach Sherman were unsuccessful. He declined to comment to a Streetsblog reporter last year.

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