On the late afternoon of December 6th, 2015, 30-year-old Victoria Nicodemus was shopping for Christmas ornaments on Fulton Street in Fort Greene with her boyfriend when the driver of a 2004 Chevrolet Suburban jumped the curb and hit them both, along with a 75-year-old pedestrian. While the others recovered, Nicodemus died.
The man behind the wheel of the SUV, Marlon Sewell, was driving with a suspended license. According to prosecutors, Sewell blacked out from the fumes coming from a neglected carbon monoxide leak that he never repaired, which caused him to plow into the pedestrians on the sidewalk.
Earlier this week, after more than four years and a mistrial, Sewell pleaded guilty to felony second degree manslaughter.
While Sewell, 43, faced a maximum of 15 years in prison, he was sentenced to five years probation as the result of an agreement with Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez.
“This case represents the first time in Brooklyn that a driver was charged with failing to fix a vehicle that he knew was too defective to operate safely, and which led to a fatal crash," a spokesperson for Gonzalez said in a statement. "The defendant accepted responsibility for his reckless behavior and is now a convicted felon.”
Initially, Sewell was charged with two misdemeanors, but then-DA Kenneth Thompson upgraded the charges after being petitioned by the Nicodemus family and safe streets advocates.
Sewell's attorney, Damien Brown, denied that the car had any gas leak, and said he introduced tests at trial to prove it. "This DA, he did a political prosecution," Brown said. "My client is absolutely innocent, he took the plea in order to give the family closure."
Brown claimed that the actual cause for the crash is that Sewell meant to brake in front of another car, and accidentally hit the gas, and that Sewell is deeply troubled by what happened. "It's an accident, it's a civil suit. Look at all the people who back into a store because they think their car is in forward instead of reverse."
"I respect that family and I feel for that family," Brown said, referring to Nicodemus's family. "I understand people want different laws but an accident is an accident."
Nicodemus's family agreed with the outcome.
Peter Miller, one of Nicodemus's brothers, told Gothamist that the fact that Sewell wouldn't be serving any jail time was "hard to accept."
"That being said, the reason as a family we were supportive of a deal is because we believe that a guilty plea on the highest felony charge, manslaughter 2, will send the message to other drivers who knowingly drive defective cars and kill innocent pedestrians, they can and will be held accountable by the justice system."
Miller, 51, said he was still "devastated" by the loss of his sister, who was an art curator for Indiewalls. "Victoria and I had different fathers but we never made the distinction. She was my sister. I helped raise her, she meant the world to me."
"She had come into her own as an incredibly thoughtful, sweet, considerate, person, and really found success in her career. She was on the cusp of a really incredible life, and her impact and her ability to uplift people is almost indescribable in words," Miller said.
While traffic deaths declined after Mayor Bill de Blasio took office and instituted the Vision Zero in 2014, last year was the first time deaths rose.
In 2019, 219 people died in traffic crashes around New York City, compared to 203 in 2018; 29 of them were cyclists, and 122 of them pedestrians. District Attorneys and the NYPD still struggle to hold dangerous drivers accountable. According to Streetsblog, fewer than 9 percent of 5,699 hit-and-run crashes in 2018 resulted in an arrest.
"The pedestrian deaths just aren't stopping. Every time I turn on the news I see another person that's killed in Brooklyn," Miller said. "I think the city's mind and intent are in the right place, I just don't see the results."
Miller added, "These things are 6,000 pound missiles, and they destroy people's lives."