It has been over six months since an unlicensed driver jumped a curb in Fort Greene and killed 30-year-old Victoria Nicodemus, and it was starting to seem that the driver, 39-year-old Marlon Sewell, would get off with a $500 fine. But after her family began petitioning the Brooklyn District Attorney's office to open a grand jury investigation into the crash that killed her, drumming up a fair amount of media attention that didn't look great for the DA, the office appears to have had a change of heart, and yesterday, prosecutors revealed that a grand jury had voted to indict Sewell on a top charge of second-degree manslaughter.
Immediately following the crash on December 6, 2015, Sewell was charged with just a pair of misdemeanors: third degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle and driving without a license. As of last month, it was starting to seem that there wouldn't be any further investigation into the case, as top staff at DA Ken Thompson's office appeared reluctant and perhaps fearful of taking a loss in court. But a petition for a grand jury circulated by Nicodemus's brother, Hank Miller, got nearly 2,000 signatures in just a few weeks, and he believes the DA's office took note.
When the crash occurred, Sewell's license had been suspended, but it was later restored, and a Brooklyn judge ruled in January that it would not be revoked because of the deadly crash. The Brooklyn DA's office didn't comment on whether that's changed now that Sewell has been indicted, but said that the case has now been transferred to Supreme Court, where Sewell will be arraigned at a to-be-determined future date.
"It's really a mixed set of emotions," Miller said today. "The sorrow that you feel—it's barely subsided, but knowing that the DA's office is pushing this and making it a priority helps, and hearing about the manslaughter charges that he was indicted on really gave us a sense that there's a possibility that justice will be realized."
Miller added that the family hadn't really known what to expect from the grand jury investigation, as the DA's office couldn't reveal many details, and he'd personally been pessimistic that anything meaningful would come of it. But an indictment for second-degree manslaughter, he said, feels appropriate, and the family is immensely thankful to everyone who signed the petition, which they believe really helped bring about the indictment.
The indictment was similarly well-received by the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, which had been calling for a full prosecution since Nicodemus's death. In a statement today, TransAlt Deputy Director Caroline Samponaro said that Thompson "made the right decision with this indictment against the driver who made a reckless and deadly decision to drive his SUV up onto a sidewalk rather than get stuck in traffic. We know that it was the determined activism of Victoria's family that turned the tide in this case. While we laud them for their efforts, it should not be up to grieving families to see to it that reckless drivers are held accountable. District attorneys in all five boroughs must bring charges consistently in cases where dangerous driving results in death or serious injury."
Initial police reports from the scene of the crash suggested that Sewell had been swerving to avoid hitting another vehicle when he jumped the curb in his SUV and struck Nicodemus and her boyfriend, who were Christmas shopping together. Sewell's lawyer couldn't be reached for comment today.
Nicodemus's family is now hoping to get involved with passing legislation that would make it a felony to injure or kill someone while driving with a suspended or revoked license. Last month, just such a bill passed the state senate, but it has yet to pass the assembly.
Public Advocate Letitia James, who led those who attended a December vigil for Nicodemus in chants calling for justice, said in a statement that Sewell's indictment is a first step toward "achieving justice for Victoria Nicodemus, who was legally and safely walking down Fulton Street with her boyfriend when she was fatally hit by an unlicensed driver. While no sentence will bring Victoria back to her family and friends, this is a big step towards ensuring that there are teeth to Vision Zero and that reckless and illegal drivers are held accountable for their actions."