By Madina Toure
The parents of a 3-year-old girl killed by an SUV joined lawmakers, members of Families for Safe Streets and Flushing residents to honor their daughter and 249 other victims of traffic violence at a vigil Tuesday night.
Organizers laid out candles forming the number “250” to represent the number of pedestrians who died as a result of reckless drivers in 2014. They called for a new state Department of Motor Vehicles commissioner who would better address the issue of pedestrian safety and reckless driving.
Hsi-Pei Liao and Amy Tam-Liao, parents of Allison Liao, 3, who was hit by an SUV while crossing Main Street and Cherry Avenue with her grandmother on Oct. 6, 2013, spoke at the vigil. The Liao family started Families for Safe Streets, an advocacy group that fights against reckless driving.
Abu-Zayedeha stayed at the scene of the crash. No criminal charges were filed against him, and his blood content level was below the legal limit. The Liaos learned of the dismissal while examining a lawsuit they filed against Abu-Zayedeha in Brooklyn Supreme Court.
“Traffic violence is an epidemic that must be addressed immediately,” Liao said. “It is hard to put into words how we have coped over the last 15 months.”
Tam-Liao, said many drivers are inconsiderate of pedestrians.
“Most drivers exercise due caution when on the road, but a few are aggressive and selfish, putting his or her needs above the safety of others like speeding, failure to yield, even bullying pedestrians with their vehicles,” Tam-Liao said.
On Tuesday, a judge for the state Department of Motor Vehicles tabled the decision on whether to suspend or revoke the driver’s license of Ahmad Abu-Zayedeha, the driver who killed Allison Liao.
At the hearing, a video depicted the accident. Abu-Zayedeh declined to speak and refused to watch the video, according to Cristina Furlong, co-founder of advocacy group Make Queens Safer.
At the end of the testimony, the lawyer for Abu-Zayedeh asked if he could submit Abu-Zayedeh’s New York license, which he has had since 2009, Furlong explained. Steve Vaccaro, the family’s attorney, asked for Abu-Zayedeh’s New Jersey license to be used to determine whether or not his license should be suspended or revoked, but the judge chose to use the New York license.
“In his initial police report statement, he said that Allison let go of her grandmother’s hand and she did not, and that’s very clear in the video that was taken,” Furlong said.
In November, a DMV judge threw out tickets for “Failing to Use Due Care” and “Failing to Yield to a Pedestrian” issued to Abu-Zayedeha shortly after the accident.
Vaccaro criticized the DMV and city agencies for complicating the process and praised the growing movement by politicians and residents.
“We are coming together as a movement to get people to stop and pay attention,” Vaccaro said.
Amy Cohen, co-founder of Families for Safe Streets, who lost her son, Sammy Cohen Epstein, 12, two days after Allison Liao was hit, read out five changes that Families for Safe Streets would like to see implemented.
The changes include mandatory license suspension for drivers convicted of serious driving infractions; a mandatory traffic safety hearing for all drivers charged with a traffic infraction or a criminal misdemeanor; higher accountability for commercial drivers; publicly accessible notice of safety hearings; and public release of safety hearing information.
“That’s not too much to ask,” Cohen said. “If you kill someone, you should not have a license to drive in New York City.”
City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) said that new laws now require convictions for reckless drivers.
“He could go to jail for that instead of having a ticket dismissed in 47 seconds,” Weprin said.
State Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Flushing), who sits on the Transportation Committee, said she would pursue traffic safety reforms.
“Let us hope that the solidarity shown here tonight gives us comfort,” Stavisky said.
City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) noted the passage of bills supporting a Vision Zero package.
“I know and I’ve seen the families of the victims testify at the City Council and it’s heart-wrenching,” Lancman said.
City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) urged drivers to be more cautious and called for more reforms. go to sleep at night when you hit somebody and a pedestrian is killed by you?” Koo said.
The DMV judge is expected to make a decision on the case in the next couple of days or weeks, Furlong said.
Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 260–4566.