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Staten Island Driver Who Killed Senior Escapes Jail … But Loses His License Permanently

Cops caught the driver who killed Anastasia Diaz by piecing together surveillance footage. File photo: NYPD

We got ... one.

how sb covered si death
How Streetsblog covered the Staten Island killing.
How Streetsblog covered the Staten Island killing.

A Staten Island driver who killed beloved senior Anastasia Diaz last year won't serve any jail time for the crime, but his guilty plea this week did come with one form of punishment that will keep residents of the Rock safe for years to come: driver Johnson Kim must surrender his driver's license permanently.

He’ll also get five years' probation and a $5,000 fine at his sentencing on Dec. 11, the Staten Island Advance reported.

But it's the revocation of Kim's license that stands out, given how few drivers who kill are ever held accountable.

"Any judge has the ability to take a license in connection with a criminal proceeding arising from a motor vehicle crash, but very few judges do it," said lawyer Steve Vaccaro, who often seeks damages from drivers who injure cyclists. "They're not really thinking about it."

It is likely that the Staten Island District Attorney's office sought the permanent revocation because of the unique circumstances of this crash — the driver not only fled the crash, but was also charged with tampering with evidence by getting his car repaired after the crash — but the office has not gotten back to us (we will update this story if it does).

Vaccaro added that a permanent license revocation is exceptionally rare, not only because judges rarely invoke their power under the state's vehicle and traffic law, section 1146, but also because the state Department of Motor Vehicles does not hold killer drivers accountable.

"It's very rare," said Vaccaro. "The only revocation I have ever gotten in a fatality case was when a driver ran over and killed Allison Liao, a 3-year-old girl, and it was a short revocation."

In the case of a revocation, a driver can reapply for a license, which most do. It is unclear how often the DMV restores a killer driver's permission to drive (the agency almost never responds to requests for information, and indeed did not in this case).

Marco Connor DiAquoi of Transportation Alternatives said prosecutors should certainly make a demand for a license suspension or revocation a priority in all dangerous driving plea bargains, but added that district attorney's offices should "also ask the court, on a routine basis, for suspension of drivers' licenses in cases of repeat dangerous driving — something courts have the power to do under VTL 510" and which TA has been demanding since 2015 [PDF].

"Today, it is not common for prosecutors to do this," he said. "They underutilize it. It is a sanction that serves as a meaningful form of punishment (albeit inadequate) that is directly tied to the offense and, in the case of repeat dangerous drivers/offenders, serves to help get dangerous drivers off the road.

"I am glad the Staten Island DA's office included this in the plea," he added. "They probably felt emboldened by the fact they had a felony hit-and-run to charge the driver with. We need to see license suspension or revocation applied in cases that don't necessarily involve a felony charge but lesser misdemeanor charges as well."

After initial publication of this story, the office of Staten Island District Attorney Mike McMahon issued this statement (which, for the record, did not address any specifics that Streetsblog requested):

This defendant pleaded guilty to the top count of leaving the scene of an accident after he fatally struck a pedestrian. In exchange for accepting the Court’s offer, the defendant will be sentenced on December 11 to five years’ probation, a $5,000 fine, and his driver’s license will be suspended permanently. As always, RCDA will continue to thoroughly investigate vehicular crimes and will prosecute these cases whenever viable charges can be brought in order to make our streets safer for all on Staten Island.

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