Van Bramer wants tougher penalties on hit-and-run drivers

Van Bramer wants tougher penalties on hit-and-run drivers
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer questions an NYPD Inspector about the rise of hit-and-run crashes such as the one that killed an East Elmhurst youth Tuesday night.
Photo courtesy Van Bramer’s office
By Bill Parry

A young East Elmhurst man was struck and killed in the crosswalk of Junction and Northern Boulevards in Jackson Heights Tuesday night. The driver of a black Toyota Camry hit 17-year-old Ovidio Jaramillo and sped away, according to the NYPD.

Ovidio was taken to Elmhurst Hospital Center, where he was later pronounced dead. The NYPD’s Collision Investigation Squad was investigating the hit-and-run.

It’s a scenario that has been played out at an alarming rate across the borough, and the city despite Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative. There have been more than 38,000 hit-and-run crashes in the city so far this year, according to a high-ranking police official.

Inspector Dennis Fulton of the Transportation Bureau for the NYPD revealed that so far in 2015 4,000 of those hit-and-run crashes involved injuries, 31 resulted in death and only 28 arrests have been made.

Fulton delivered those startling numbers during a hearing by the Council’s Transportation Committee as they considered two pieces of legislation, Intros. 603 and 604, introduced by City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside). Intro. 603 would seek to penalize repeat offenders who are found guilty in hit-and-run crashes. Intro. 604 would require the NYPD to expand its existing hit-and-run reporting to the Council by including data on civil penalties which are levied in hit-and-run crashes and the amount paid.

“The NYPD’s shocking statistics really show just how important it is for our city to punish the 4,000 people who hit another human being with their vehicle this year, left them to die on the street and thought they’d get away with it,” Van Bramer said. Last year, the Council passed Van Bramer’s Justice for Hit-and-Run Victims Act, instituting civil penalties for leaving the scene of an accident without reporting. Van Bramer drafted the legislation following several hit-and-run crashes that occurred in his district, claiming the lives of Luis Bravo, 19; Kumar Ragunath, 64; and Karen Pheras, 20.

Under this law those who leave the scene of a hit-and-run crash without reporting it to the NYPD would be subject to a civil penalty of $1,000 to $2,000 if a person is injured, $2,000 to $10,000 if there is a serious injury, and $5,000 to $10,000 if death results.

“This legislation is not meant to measure the value of the lives lost, but to act as a forceful deterrent to our city’s most dangerous drivers,” Van Bramer said. “We are sending a message directly to hit-and-run drivers: if you hit someone and leave the scene of the crash, we will find you and punish you to the fullest extent of the law.”

Fulton agreed with the increased penalties for repeat offenders.

“The bill would hold the most irresponsible drivers accountable for the basic decency that one would expect from those operating motor vehicles on our crowded streets,” he said.

The inspector did not express support for the second bill, however. Paul Steely White, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives spoke in favor of both bills.

“Transportation Alternatives supports Majority Leader Van Bramer’s legislation because it will lead to a uniform, predictable application of existing penalties for leaving the scene of a crash,” Steely White said. “It will also give the public comprehensive data about the scale of the hit-and-run problem in New York City, which is essential for developing evidence-based policies to reduce traffic deaths and serious injury.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr[email protected]local.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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