On May 24 of this year Roxana Buta, the only child of Romanian immigrants and an aspiring actress was struck and killed by a truck as she stepped off the sidewalk and onto a New York city crosswalk.
A Pandemic of Drivers Striking Pedestrians
According to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles there were about 3,000 serious and but nonfatal accidents in New York City in just last year. The police department responsible for investigating these crashes, the Accident Investigation Squad investigated only 2 percent or 63 of the 3000 crashes. The Squad, which only numbers about 20 members, only investigates a crash when a victim is determined to be likely to die.
New York’s Law Protects Dangerous Drivers
The sad reality is that it is New York’s laws benefit motorists who strike and kill pedestrians. Drivers like the one who killed Ms. Buta are unlikely to be prosecuted in New York. Prosecution is rare because New York law requires that the driver know or have reason to know that that a personal injury has been caused in order to be criminally charged for leaving the scene of an accident. In other words, if a driver claims that he or she didn’t see the pedestrian, it is a legitimate defense, and one that is very challenging for a prosecutor to disprove as untrue.
In contrast, other states often treat drivers who kill pedestrians as homicide offenders, whereas in New York vehicular homicide is treated as a Class E Felony, the class of felonies with the least severe punishment.
New York Courts Don’t View Dangerous Drivers as Life-threatening to Pedestrians
Another cause for the infrequency of criminal convictions against drivers who kill is the result of a court ruling from 2008 handed down by the New York Court of Appeals, the highest court in the state. In that case an unlicensed 17 old driver was determined by the Court not to be criminally liable for the high-speed crash in which the three passengers in his car were killed. The Court reasoned that the driver was incapable of understanding the risk of his actions. The upshot of this case is that drivers who drive recklessly and kill people are not likely to be viewed by the law as criminally responsible for the deaths they cause.
The current law leaves criminal prosecutors uncertain of how outrageous and drivers conduct need to be convicted as criminally responsible for killing pedestrians. It also leaves the surviving family members of people like Roxana Buta without justice.