"I'm sure the driver who killed my mom is very happy," Michael Cheung, whose elderly mother Sau Ying Lee was killed by an SUV driver on Canal Street last month, told reporters yesterday, just a block from where the fatal collision occurred. "I'm sure he's going to spread the message to everyone he knows: I killed someone and went free. That's the message NYC is sending: Goodbye, go kill another pedestrian. Go and kill as many as you want."
Cheung had returned to the area where his mother died to join a press conference organized by Councilmember Margaret Chin, who had her own near-death experience on Canal Street recently. Pointing to the congested rush hour intersection, where Bowery, Canal, and the Manhattan Bridge converge in a chaotic mess, Chin recalled three truck drivers "zooming" through a red light just as she was about to cross the street. The drivers nearly killed her just "to get to another red light," Chin said, pointing to the next stop light at Elizabeth Street, a short block away.
After a series of pedestrian fatalities in Lower Manhattan—four people have been killed by motorists in the area in the past two months—Chin is drafting legislation requiring the NYC DOT to study how major truck routes "affect the safety of pedestrians, cyclists and drivers." Ultimately, she'd like to see big trucks banned from Canal Street, which has some of the most dangerous intersections in Manhattan. Although none of the recent pedestrian fatalities were caused by big truck drivers, the idea is that eliminating truck traffic would have a calming effect on Canal.
The driver who killed Lee, 90, faces no criminal charges, and after the accident he simply told a reporter, "I didn't see her, she was very small." According to the NYPD, Lee was lawfully walking with the signal (“blinking hand”) as she crossed, and was still within the crosswalk when the signal changed and the light turned green for cars. At the moment the light changed, the driver sped forward and fatally struck Lee, who was still in the crosswalk.
Hsi-Pei Liao, who learned last week that the DMV had voided tickets issued to the driver who killed his 3-year-old daughter and injured his mother in Queens last year, was also on hand. "We just want justice for what happened," Liao said. "It's very hard for us to be here and talk about our family's death and tragedy. But the system is broken."
Liao and his family were not even notified of the driver's July DMV hearing. Their attorney, Steve Vaccaro, said the police officers involved in investigating the crash were present. "But we don't know what exactly they said, and if they were permitted to show the videotape to the judge," Vaccaro said. "The NYPD should have been there with knowledgable officers with a copy of the videotape to show it to the judge. It's hard for me to believe that any person can watch that videotape and not have reached the conclusion that the driver failed to use due care."
Here is that video, which is graphic:
Liao said he was shocked by the way the Queens District Attorney's office handled the case. "There's a whole feeling that [prosecutors] are on the driver's side," Liao told us. "If it's a hit-and-run or a DWI, they will prosecute. Beyond that, if someone drives recklessly, they don't want to do anything. The driver killed my daughter, but the District Attorney was searching for reasons to defend him, saying, 'Maybe the driver had a blind spot?' There's a feeling of being victimized multiple times. First my child died, then they tell us it's not the driver's fault, then, by the way, the little tickets that were given out? They're going to be dismissed. It's multiple layers of pain every time."
Speaking to reporters over the rush hour din, Vaccaro shouted, "I'm going to speak louder because of the traffic noise but also because I'm so angry. There are plenty of laws on the books and nothing's enforced. It is so upsetting to be here again and hear about more deaths. How many occur at intersections like this? Every week, every month, year after year.
"Who decided to put this traffic sewer running through this vibrant neighborhood? Who decided that we should have this truck traffic here, for cars and trucks that don't want to pay a toll. Councilmember Chin has a great idea: we should be looking at whether truck routes like this, that feel like an interstate and are treated like an interstate by the drivers, should be coming through neighborhoods like this."
Chin declined to offer specifics on where truck traffic would be rerouted if Canal Street was no longer a designated truck route; she said the DOT needs to study the area, at which point "we can open up more discussion to see what's acceptable." A DOT spokesperson said, "We look forward to reviewing the legislation and working with Council Member Chin on implementing safety enhancements as part of Vision Zero. DOT will review these locations for appropriate actions."
Councilman Mark Treyger, who announced yesterday that he will introduce legislation to crack down on cyclists who use cell phones while biking, did not attend last night's press conference.