By Bill Parry
Just five days shy of the one year anniversary of the death of her 19-year-old son, Luis Bravo, Marta Puruncajas clutched a portrait of him and wept as an announcement was made in the Red Room at City Hall. The Justice for Hit and Run Victims Act had been passed unanimously by the City Council Tuesday, drastically increasing the penalties for drivers involved in hit-and-runs in which a victim is seriously injured or killed.
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who proposed the legislation after three people were killed by hit-and-run drivers in his district in the last 18 months, said the bill would establish civil penalties of up to $10,000 for fleeing the scene of a collision. He then spoke of Bravo, 64-year-old Kumar Ragunath, who was struck and killed crossing Northern Boulevard in March and 20-year-old Karen Pheras, who was hit by a motorcyclist at Queens Plaza North in October.
“All lost their lives because of the unconscionable actions of reckless drivers who showed no concern for the lives of these three people,” Van Bramer said. “We will never know if one or all of them could have been saved had the drivers done the right thing: stopped their car and called 911. With the passage of The Justice for Hit and Run Victims Act we are sending a message directly to hit-and-run drivers that leaving a fellow New Yorker to die in the streets is unconscionable, and if you do this, you will be punished.”
After the announcement, Marta Puruncajas spoke of the death of her only son, who was struck and killed as he walked eastbound on Broadway in Woodside. Police never found the driver of the dark colored sedan who drove away from the scene.
“Since my son was killed, life has been impossible,” she said. “I have a young daughter and I have to keep going for her, but in my heart I cry. I miss him in silence. It is a burden I carry from morning to night.”
Van Bramer also honored representatives from Make Queens Safer with a Proclamation on behalf of the City Council. The group led a candlelight vigil and march through the street of Jackson Heights last fall and never stopped raising awareness by encouraging increased enforcement of traffic laws, safety-minded street design and deterring the actions of reckless drivers.
The co-founders of the advocacy group, Dr. Laura Newman and Cristina Furlong, issued a statement saying, “There is only so much shock, sadness, and disbelief a community can feel before the impetus for change grabs hold. When it grabs hold of a small army of parents, a community may never be the same. Make Queens Safer was born this way.”
The Justice for Hit and Run Victims Act will go into effect 90 days after it is signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, which he is expected to do as part of his Vision Zero initiative.
Paul Steely White, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives said, “Hitting someone with a car and then fleeing the scene is one of the most heinous crimes. Hit-and-run drivers leave victims exposed and without treatment in the street, they leave investigators without key information, and they leave families feeling that they’ve been denied closure. This bill will help deliver aid and justice to crash victims as quickly as possible and deter reckless driving and prevent crashes in the first place.”
A mass, in memory of Luis Bravo, will be held on Sunday, Sept. 28 at 1:30 p.m. at Blessed Sacrament Church, at 34-43 93rd Street, in Jackson Heights.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.