By Bill Parry
Almost a half decade has passed since state Sen. Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria) first introduced legislation that would toughen penalties on drivers without valid licenses who kill or injure pedestrians, cyclists or other motorists and the measure was approved unanimously Monday by the state Senate. The bill now awaits action in the state Assembly, where it sits in the Codes Committee.
Gianaris first introduced the bill, which would increase the penalty for killing someone while driving with a suspended license to a Class D Felony in 2013, after 8-year-old Noshat Nahian was struck and killed by a tractor-trailer in Woodside as he tried to cross Northern Boulevard to attend his third grade class at PS 152. Gianaris redoubled his efforts following the tragic death of Ridgewood teen Kevin Flores in January.
Flores was killed when he was struck by an oil truck as he rode his bicycle in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. The driver was arrested and charged with one count of aggravated unlicensed operation of a vehicle.
“I am pleased the Senate passed this important proposal, which is the first step towards delivering justice for families victimized by reckless motorists. The dangerous drivers continue to kill because the current punishment does not fit the crime,” Gianaris said. “We must get serious about strengthening our laws before another life is lost at the hands of drivers who should not be behind the wheel.”
The most severe penalty a district attorney can seek currently in such instances is a misdemeanor. Convicted drivers are rarely sentenced to any jail time at all and they are free to commit additional offenses, according to Gianaris, who pointed out that Phillip Monfoletto, the driver who allegedly killed Kevin Flores, had nine license suspensions on his record and continued to drive with a suspended license, even mocking the leniency of current laws in a Facebook post.
“My dearest friend Kevin Flores was killed and had an amazing future ahead of him,” Neyfa Philogene, a seventh grade classmate of Kevin’s at Launch Expeditionary Learning Charter School, said. “It is really an honor that this bill was passed to honor not only him but the children that have been killed in car crashes. This shows a lot of love. We loved Kevin and miss him.”
Gianaris’ legislation would increase the penalty to a class E felony for seriously injuring a person and a class D felony if the collision resulted in death, with a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr