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Aggressive Driving

Trucker Who Killed 3-Year-Old Boy In Harlem Blames Child’s Mother For Not Holding His Hand

The truck driver who killed a 3-year-old boy in Harlem last year says it was the mother’s fault for not holding his hand. Photo: Citizen

The truck driver with a laundry list of moving violations who killed a 3-year-old boy in Harlem last year is now blaming the child’s death on the boy's mother, saying that little Bertin DeJesus would still be alive today if his mom had been holding his hand.

Trucker Jaime Sabogal, 59, killed DeJesus on Dec. 9, 2019, when he made a left turn onto First Avenue from E. 116th Street, hitting the boy and injuring his 25-year-old mother.

Police initially said that DeJesus was in a stroller when he was killed, but video obtained by ABC7 shows he was walking just ahead of his mother — which Sabogal believes absolves him.

“It’s being made out like I did something wrong, I did not,” Sabogal told Streetsblog. “The mother should have had the child in her hand.”

Sabogal had reached out to Streetsblog last week, threatening to sue for “character defamation” because our coverage, citing police reports, blamed him for DeJesus's death. But the facts are clear: Sabogal had been driving with a suspended license when he hit the tot with his massive Ford F-250. Police arrested him with failure to yield and aggravated unlicensed operation.

Sabogal does not deny that he was behind the wheel when he shouldn't have been because his license had been suspended. But he does dispute also being arrested with failure to yield

"I was never charged with anything other than unlicensed operation for an unpaid ticket," Sabogal told Streetsblog in a voicemail left last week. "I need that taken down or I'm gonna look to sue you."

Police say Sabogal was indeed charged with failure to yield.

Sabogal insists the video exonerates him because it shows a gap between the toddler and his mother, with Sabogal claiming that DeJesus was running away from her, and that there was nothing he could have done to stop himself from driving his massive, 5,500-plus-pound vehicle into them.

In these still frames from the video, (left) Bertin DeJesus and his mom (circled) are crossing First Avenue. (Photo right) Jaime Sabogal cuts the corner in his black Ford F-250 an instant before striking the boy.
In these still frames from the video, (left) Bertin DeJesus and his mom (circled) are crossing First Avenue. (Photo right) Jaime Sabogal cuts the corner in his black Ford F-250 an instant before striking the boy.
In these still frames from the video, (left) Bertin DeJesus and his mom (circled) are crossing First Avenue. (Photo right) Jaime Sabogal cuts the corner in his black Ford F-250 an instant before striking the boy.

“The child was walking in front of the mother by 10 feet, it’s like letting your pet walk in front of you and not even having a leash on them,” he said.

The video does not, in fact, exonerate Sabogal. It shows DeJesus one stride, at most, ahead of his mother. It also shows an impatient Sabogal cut the corner sharply as he tried to get ahead of a white car that was also turning onto First Avenue.

Both that, and the bad weather, made what happened nothing more than an "accident," according to Sabogal. Under questioning from Streetsblog, he dutifully said he “of course” feels bad for causing the death of the little boy before launching again into claiming that it wasn’t his fault.

“It was raining cats and dogs, the child was not in the mother’s hand,” said Sabogal, 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.

The fatal crash is reminiscent of one in Queens in 2013, when 3-year-old Allison Liao was killed by a turning driver as she walked across the street with her grandmother, Chin Hua Liao, in Flushing.

Police and media reports then tried to blame the grandmother for the little girl's death, who cops had claimed "broke free from her grandmother," until video emerged showing it was in fact the driver's fault for turning directly into them, striking them both with the front corner of his SUV.

The driver was never criminally charged, but unlike Sabogal, he ultimately admitted that it was his recklessness behind the wheel that caused Liao's death, and even agreed not to drive for five years.

Liao's father, Hsi-Pei Liao, was horrified by Sabogal's comments and attempt to shift blame on a grieving mother, especially given the fact that he should never have even been on the road that day.

"He's the one that murdered a child, he should not be on the road in the first place," said Liao. "He failed to yield, and the way he responds, he failed to be a human, he actually failed humanity."

Liao added that Sabogal's response to killing a child — in the crosswalk, with the light — is a result of toxic car culture, and how people view their ability to get behind the wheel of a car as a right, not a privilege that must come with exercising extreme care.

"He probably feels like he's entitled to drive and entitled to drive regardless of [his license] status," he said. "He was driving toward them, they have the walk signal, they have right of way. It just means he didn't even see the stroller, it doesn't really matter if he's even a few steps away — that should be a clear indication he needs to be much more careful.

"Drivers are always cutting too close in the crosswalk, so we need to change that behavior to see people and slow down for them," he added.

The NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.

Sabogal faces at most 30 days behind bars for the two minor charges. He's next due in court on March 18.

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