The NYPD's internal investigation exonerated Officer Darren Illardi after he struck and killed 24-year-old Ryo Oyamada in Queensbridge in February of 2013, despite the fact that video appears to show Officer Ilardi traveling at a high rate of speed without his emergency lights engaged. Oyamada's family is suing the city, but the Department of Motor Vehicles is also supposed to hold a safety hearing to examine the facts of the case and determine whether the driver should be allowed to keep their license. Yet nearly two years after Oyamada was killed, the DMV has yet to schedule the hearing.
"These hearings can be a powerful tool to win accountability for sober reckless drivers," Steve Vaccaro, the attorney for the Oyamada family says. "The problems with the process are that it's not transparent, families of crash victims haven't gotten the opportunity to present evidence the way they would want to, and the police investigative files are not available at these hearings, not to mention that police testimony is often absent."
An administrative law judge is supposed to attend the hearing, review the evidence, and interview the driver and other witnesses before deciding whether to suspend or revoke the driver's license; they need only a preponderance of evidence to do so, a lower standard than at a criminal trial or during a traffic hearing. State law requires the DMV to hold the hearing within a year of the incident, though Vaccaro says in many instances it takes two.
Jackie McGinnis, a spokeswoman for the DMV, did not provide an answer as to why Oyamada's hearing has not yet been scheduled. When asked if it had to do with Ilardi's position as a police officer, she replied, "DMV safety hearings are the same no matter who was involved in the accident."
"I would aim to show the video tape that the lights were not engaged, I would submit information showing that this was a block on which mid-block crossings are permitted," Vaccaro says of a potential DMV hearing in the case. "And I think there is substantial evidence already that shows recklessness on the part of Darren Illardi, and I would try to get that evidence in front of the DMV."
Vaccaro's federal lawsuit against the city suggests that the NYPD purposefully destroyed evidence, failed to properly investigate the crash, and engaged in a "cover-up."
The court filings also suggest that Ilardi had a record of dangerous driving, and that the NYPD had failed to retrain or discipline him for it. The details of these charges are under seal because law enforcement techniques and personnel files of city employees are usually protected by the court (Vaccaro is currently suing to disclose many of these details under New York's Freedom of Information Law.) Oyamada's case is currently pending on a judge to subpoena Illardi's phone records at the time of the crash.
After it was learned that a DMV judge swiftly dismissed the two traffic tickets against the driver who killed 3-year-old Allison Liao in Queens last year, the DMV issued a statement noting that the safety hearing to examine her crash would occur on January 6, 2015. "Whenever a fatal accident occurs anywhere in the state, the DMV schedules a special safety hearing," the statement read.
"It's up to the DMV to follow its own rules and hold the hearings within a reasonable time frame," Vaccaro says. "A year is, frankly, too long for a dangerous, reckless driver to be on the street. Two years is unacceptable."