Liz Crowley urges stiffer vehicle fines

Liz Crowley urges stiffer vehicle fines
Mei and Brendan Ogle (l. to r.), parents of a teen killed by a man who stole a car left running, look on as Council members John Liu and Elizabeth Crowley discuss a bill meant to increase fines for people who leave vehicles unattended. Photo by Jeremy Walsh
By Jeremy Walsh

In the wake of a suspected auto theft that ultimately claimed the lives of a Middle Village teenager and his friend, City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D−Middle Village) has introduced legislation calling for steep fines for people who leave their cars unattended with the engine running.

“We have to make sure New Yorkers understand that leaving cars unattended is not only careless, it’s a minor crime,” Crowley said. “It’s honest, it’s careless, people do it every day, but we need to be more aware.”

Currently the city fines motorists $5 if they are caught leaving the car with its engine running. Crowley’s bill aims to up that fee to $250.

Robert Ogle, 16, was walking home from a friend’s birthday party early Feb. 1 in Middle Village when he was struck by a silver Kia that police said was driven by Kenneth Guyear, 27. Guyear allegedly stole the car, which had been left running in front of a deli in the neighborhood a short time before.

Robert was pronounced dead at the scene. His friend, 20−year−old Brooklyn resident Alex Paul, died later at Elmhurst Hospital.

“Kenneth Guyear and the car owner actually passed each other coming in and out of the deli,” Robert’s father, Brendan Ogle, said. “That’s how fast it can happen.”

The bill was introduced Tuesday and sent to the Council’s Transportation Committee, headed by Councilman John Liu (D−Flushing).

“We will act on it expeditiously,” Liu said, throwing his support behind the bill. “The fine has to be severe, if only to get people to understand what they’re doing.”

Robert Holden, president of the Juniper Park Civic Association, praised Crowley’s bill, but also called on state legislators to make it a crime for motorists to leave a car unattended with the engine running.

“If we can save lives in the future, it will all be worthwhile,” he said.

Crowley said that of the 333 auto thefts in the 104th Precinct in 2008, 7 percent were due to people leaving vehicles with the engine running. Of the 74 thefts so far in 2009, 10 percent were stolen under the same circumstances, she said.

Guyear allegedly told police he had five or six vodka drinks and two prescription pills at a party and admitted he stole the car, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said. He was charged with assault, vehicular manslaughter, larceny, criminal possession of stolen property, criminally negligent homicide, grand larceny, leaving the scene without reporting a felony and operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. He faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted of the charges. His next court date is April 6.

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e−mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 154.

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