BY CRISTABELLE TUMOLA AND ANGY ALTAMIRANO
Local elected officials are hoping a change in the law will prevent unlicensed drivers from getting behind the wheel of a vehicle and avoid yet another death.
In response to a fatal hit-and-run in Elmhurst on Sunday, which took the life of a 26-year-old woman, state Senator Michael Gianaris gathered with local officials and advocacy groups on Tuesday morning at the site of the crash to reintroduce legislation he put forth more than a year ago.
The change in law would make it a felony if drivers with suspended licenses either seriously injure or kill someone with their vehicle. The proposal, included in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero agenda, would also include immediate impoundment of a vehicle involved in such accidents.
“Unfortunately we’re here for something that should have been done a while ago but has yet to be done,” Gianaris said. “We’re now for the third time in little over a year in western Queens alone dealing with an incident where someone who did not have a proper license to drive has hit and killed someone.”
According to the NYPD, the victim was struck at about 10:40 p.m. on Sunday at the intersection of 76th Street and Woodside Avenue as she attempted to cross the intersection.
A Mitsubishi box truck was traveling southbound on 76th Street and was making a left turn onto Woodside Avenue when it hit the woman, who was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.
The driver fled after striking the woman, but an eyewitness reportedly chased down the truck. The driver, 27-year-old Valentine Gonzalez, was nabbed just blocks away, at 73rd Street and 41st Avenue, and taken into custody, cops said.
Under the current law, Gonzalez has been charged with leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in death and driving without a license.
“After yet another hit-and-run by an unlicensed driver, it’s time that New Yorkers stood up and said that enough is enough,” Assemblyman Francisco Moya said. “Current laws are not tough enough if reckless drivers, like Valentine Gonzalez, are still able to drive on our streets. How many more fatalities will there be before we say the laws must be changed?”
The proposed bill, which is co-sponsored by state Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, was initially introduced following the 2013 fatal accident in Woodside where 8-year-old Noshat Nahian was struck on his way to school at P.S. 152.
“It’s time for the punishment to fit the crime. If you get behind the wheel when you’re not authorized to do so and you kill somebody or you injure somebody you should go to jail. That way we will keep it from happening again in the future,” Gianaris said.