As we've seen demonstrated with revolting frequency, it's easy to get away with murder in this town: just get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle and stomp down on the gas pedal. The latest example of our highly dysfunctional legal system comes courtesy Diego Tapia-Ulloa, a 23-year-old dump truck driver whose license was suspended when he fatally ran over Laurence Renard, a 35-year-old fashion stylist, on the Upper East Side in January. After the accident, he was arrested and charged with aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle in the third degree. Streetsblog reports that on July 7th, Tapia-Ulloa pleaded guilty and the wheels of justice groaned into "action," spitting out a $500 fine.
Tapia-Ulloa will not do any jail time, and in his essential Streetsblog story, reporter Brad Aaron writes, "The guessing game that routinely ensues after a New York City traffic death is symptomatic of a dysfunctional system that fails victims at every level. Without crucial information withheld by police and prosecutors it is often impossible to judge whether justice has been served. A new law requiring NYPD to release traffic crash data is in its first stages of implementation, but while it will shed light on the location and main contributing factors of each crash, it will not divulge details of crash investigations."
After pedestrian Jason King was killed by a truck driver in December while crossing Madison Avenue in the crosswalk, officials called on the Manhattan DA to prosecute the driver. Elle's Law, named after a four-year-old girl who was seriously injured by a reckless driver backing down a UES street to find a parking spot, was enacted last year to create stiffer penalties for drivers. But it doesn't seem to be working. After King's death, Upper East Side Assembly Member Micah Kellner wrote to DA Cy Vance, "As the sponsor of Elle’s Law and a supporter of the Hayley Ng and Diego Martinez Law, I am greatly concerned that neither of these important pedestrian-protection laws has apparently been enforced in this incident."
It's hard to feel optimistic when the very laws created to punish reckless drivers turn out to be impotent, but if there's any light at the end of the tunnel, it could be emanating from Governor Cuomo's office. Cuomo seems inclined to make transportation safety a signature issue of his tenure, and at a high profile press conference this week, he compared using a car to "driving a two-ton missile."