Winter 2004, p.12

Safe Streets
Daily News Gets Governor to Join Fight against Killer Drivers Outrage that only 14% of killer drivers charged

T.A. applauds the new York Daily News for its “Save a Life, Change the Law” campaign to pressure the governor and state legislature to make killer drivers accountable for their actions. The campaign has already won a pledge by Governor Pataki and some legislators to reform state laws to make it possible to prosecute and convict killer drivers.

The News found that between 2000 and 2002, motorists killed 580 New York City pedestrians, but only 80 motorists were charged with a crime. Prosecutors interviewed by the News confirmed T.A.’s long-time assertion that state law makes it almost impossible for prosecutors to convict even the most reckless killer drivers. According to Brooklyn District Attorney, Maureen McCormick, under existing law, killer driver cases “are as heartbreaking as they are difficult to prove.” One victim’s son told the News, “If you kill someone with a car, you are in very good shape.” He is right. In New York, killer drivers who use the “Oops, I blacked out before my car jumped the curb at 60 mph” excuse are impossible to prosecute.

The News found that between 2000 and 2002, motorists killed 580 New York City pedestrians, but only 80 motorists were charged with a crime.

Governor Proposes Tougher Rules for Killer Drivers

Thanks to the Daily News’ “Save a Life, Change the Law” campaign, Governor Pataki is proposing a package of new laws with which to hold killer drivers accountable for their actions. T.A. supports measures to hold killer drivers accountable. As reported by the News, the Governor seeks to:

  • Remove district attorneys’ burden of proving criminal negligence when a driver under the influence of drugs or alcohol seriously injures or kills someone, flees from a cop or violates traffic laws and has a history of infractions.
  • Give consecutive sentences to drivers who kill or seriously injure more than one person, which means much longer stays behind bars.
  • Boost top penalties for deadly hit-and-run drivers from four to seven years in prison. Licenses would automatically be suspended for drivers who flee the scene of a fatal crash.
  • Crack down on unlicensed drivers by requiring them to be fingerprinted, making it harder for them to get new licenses under phony names.
  • Revoke licenses of drivers who break traffic laws and kill or seriously injure another person in the process.

Observers believe that the new laws will pass the state senate but face stiff opposition in the state assembly, whose leader, Speaker Sheldon Silver, is a former defense attorney and deeply skeptical of pro-prosecution measures.

A Punishment to Fit the Crime

Is four years in prison sufficient punishment for a person who used his sports utility vehicle to mow down a law-abiding pedestrian, dragged his body for a block while speeding (possibly up to 100 mph) in a 30 mph zone, fled the scene of the crime, ditched the vehicle and took a bus to Atlantic City to gamble while his victim lay dead? T.A., Governor Pataki and the Daily News say no. The police department arrested Gurpreet Oberoi of Queens in January after he allegedly killed Peter Hornbeck on January 10th when Hornbeck tried to cross the street at 96th Street and Park Avenue. The Manhattan District Attorney added a charge of homicide after the investigators found that Oberoi had been speeding. However, even if Oberoi is convicted of homicide, he will only face up to four years in prison. Governor Pataki, who has publicly declared his support for tougher traffic laws, wants to increase top penalties for deadly hit-and-run drivers to up to seven years in prison. T.A. is encouraging the Governor and others to pass legislation that would give prosecutors the ability to prosecute killer drivers in a manner that reflects the horror of the crime.

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