The Department of Motor Vehicles has temporarily suspended the license of the driver who killed 12-year-old Sammy Cohen Eckstein two years ago. According to the DMV, Luis K. Quizhpi-Tacuri was driving without a valid license and failed to use due care when he fatally struck Cohen Eckstein with his van. The suspension is for 180 days.
The crash occurred on October 8th of 2013, while Cohen Eckstein was chasing a soccer ball that had rolled onto Prospect Park West. According to his family's attorney, Steve Vaccaro, the NYPD did not charge the driver with any crimes or traffic violations; the NYPD also failed to send any investigators to the DMV's safety hearing.
But administrative law judge Marc Berger found that Quizhpi-Tacuri failed "to use due care to avoid colliding with a pedestrian," and held him responsible for Cohen Eckstein's death. Berger noted that the driver admitted to seeing Sammy's soccer ball roll in front of his car, but passed another vehicle on his right that stopped after spotting the ball.
"The sight of a ball rolling into the street in a residential area adjacent to a park in the afternoon should have warned the respondent of the likely presence of children—to carefully observe his surroundings and make appropriate adjustments, including slowing down or stopping if necessary," Berger wrote in his decision, dated last week.
"Additionally, the fact that the vehicle immediately to his left suddenly stopped after the ball passed should have been an indication to the respondent to use extra care instead of passing that vehicle on its right."
Quizhpi-Tacuri also had an invalid driver's license. According to the DMV, he offered a Washington State driver's license at the hearing, despite having lived in New York State for nearly a decade. According to DMV rules, drivers are required to obtain New York State licenses within a month of having lived here for 90 days, whereupon they become residents of the state. That violation combined with the driver's failure to use due care netted him the 180 day suspension.
Vaccaro says that the DMV's decision reflects a change in how the department looks at injuries and fatalities incurred by drivers.
"Even in a case where the police failed to issue a summons, much less bring a criminal charge, there's a recognition that the driver failed to use due care under the circumstances," he told us. "At a time when it seems that some are clamoring for fewer consequences for drivers who injure and kill pedestrians, it's really a very positive sign the DMV is taking these cases more seriously than they did even just a year or two ago."
Indeed, though the DMV is required to hold safety hearings within one year of a fatal accident, hearings are often backlogged—it took the DMV over a year to hold a hearing regarding the death of 3-year-old Allison Liao, who was struck by a driver in 2013, and more than three years for the department to hold a hearing on the death of cyclist Mathieu Lefevre, who was struck by driver Leonardo Degianni in 2011.
And these hearings don't always result in suspensions. The DMV failed to enact any punishment against the police officer who fatally struck 24-year-old Ryo Oyamada in 2013, calling the officer's actions "unavoidable," despite evidence to the contrary provided by Vaccaro, who also represents the Oyamada family.
Meanwhile, the Cohen-Eckstein family, which has been diligently fighting for lower speed limits and improved street safety conditions since Sammy's death, is relieved by the DMV's decision.
"This is a very difficult process and as much as they care about making sure there are consequences for the driver, they've been living this for far too long and they're trying to get closure," Vaccaro said. "This decision gives them closure and enables them to move on."