Safe streets advocate says DA Brown should have charged driver in baby’s death

Street safety advocates complain Queens DA Richard Brown declined to bring criminal charges in the death of 8-month-old Navraj Raju in East Elmhurst in October.
Photo by Bill Parry
By Bill Parry

The Queens district attorney’s office is pushing back against Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets after they announced their outrage that the DA declined to bring criminal charges against Armando Morales-Rodriguez, a 44-year-old unlicensed driver who killed an 8-month-old baby on an East Elmhurst sidewalk in October.

The driver backed his van into a stroller carrying Navraj Raju in front of 92-20 Astoria Blvd. The boy was rushed to Elmhurst Hospital Center, where he died from his injuries.

In the absence of criminal charges, Morales-Rodriguez faces a maximum of 15 days in jail and a $300 fine, according to Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White.

“We once again implore the NYPD and the city’s district attorneys to take greater action to deter the driving behaviors that kill and injure the most New Yorkers, which include failure to yield to pedestrians,” Steely White said. “Specifically, authorities must make more frequent use of the Right of Way law, which allows a misdemeanor criminal charge against drivers who kill or injure someone in a crosswalk or bike lane, or on a sidewalk while entering or exiting a driveway. In the Vision Zero era, DA’s must play a proactive role in deterring all forms of dangerous driving, and the reduction in fatalities and injuries must be a prime measure of our public prosecutor’s success.”

When the Queens DA was told what happened to Naraj Ranju Oct. 27, he raced to the scene with the chief of his Vehicular Homicide Unit and two assistant district attorneys from his Homicide Investigations Bureau in addition to the NYPD Collision Investigations Squad and the Queens Homicide Squad.

“This horrible tragedy was thoroughly investigated and we filed the only charge supported by the law and the facts of this incident,” a spokesman for the DA said. “We take very seriously our responsibility to investigate and prosecute drivers whose criminal conduct results in death or serious injury. That being said, we are sworn to follow the law. No matter how tragic the incident and no matter how much sympathy we have for victims and their families, we cannot base a prosecution on those feelings.”

He added, “In every vehicular crash brought to our attention we must evaluate the driver’s conduct in terms of criminal liability. There are occasions when crashes occur which are not the result of criminality. Some may disagree with that determination and it is their right to do so, but our oath requires us to follow the law and not the opinions of others, however heartfelt those opinions may be.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

More from Around New York