‘One child’s death is too many’: After deadly Queens hit-and-run, advocates & lawmakers seek safety changes

Photo credit: Clarence Eckerson

As the family of a young boy fatally struck by a SUV in Woodside last month laid him to rest, safety advocates and elected officials called for various improvements to make Northern Boulevard safer.

Giovanni Ampuero was interred at Calvary Cemetery in Woodside on Friday, May 4, following his funeral Mass at St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church. The following day, May 5, Make Queens Safer in partnership with Families for Safe Streets and Transportation Alternatives Queens Committee held a rally and vigil for Ampuero, which was attended by the child’s grief-stricken family and other supporters.

Attendees met in front of I.S. 230 for a rally prior to the vigil at the site of the tragic crash.

“Burying yesterday, my son, was the worst thing, I think, any parent could go [through],” said the boy’s father, Raul Ampuero in front of the vigil attendees.

“My brother, he was an angel. He was everything to me,” said Ampuero’s older brother, Giancarlo, age 14.

In addition to Ampuero’s family, individuals such as Cristina Furlong, co-founder of Make Queens Safer, attended the vigil to share the basic message that “one child’s death is too many.”

“We couldn’t let this death go unheard from our community. It’s just too great a loss after too much work. There’s a strong community here that cares deeply for your son and for your family,” said Furlong to Ampuero’s father, mother and older brothers.

At the rally, Jessica Ramos, a candidate for the state Senate seat held by Jose Peralta, called for action to be taken for changes on Northern Boulevard and within the Department of Motor Vehicles.

“Not only should we install speed cameras, not only should we advocate for ‘pedestrian scrambles,’ meaning that all of the lights turn red so that pedestrians can cross the street; I believe that we should start thinking about retesting drivers and making sure that they’re still able to drive,” said Ramos.

Ramos seemed to allude to the driver behind the wheel of the SUV that struck and killed Ampuero, 86-year-old Juan B. Jimenez of Manhattan, who was charged with leaving the scene of an accident, failure to yield to a pedestrian and failure to exercise due care.

The day before the vigil, on May 4, Peralta and Assemblyman Michael DenDekker held a press conference on the corner of 70th Street and Northern Boulevard to announce immediate traffic lighting changes — something which they demanded from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office immediately after the April 28 incident.

Photo by Jenna Bagcal/QNS
Photo by Jenna Bagcal/QNS

“We must try to prevent these terrible incidents. One way is to hold the drivers accountable for the terrible reckless operation of their vehicles and the other is to try, by design, to make our roads safer,” DenDekker said.

After meeting with the mayor, Leading Pedestrian Interval (LPI) lights were installed at and surrounding the location of the crash. LPI is a lighting system which allows pedestrians to get a 7-second head start in the crosswalk before vehicles begin to move.

Congressman Joseph Crowley and other elected officials also met with the DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg on May 3 in order to talk about installing LPI at other locations along Northern Boulevard from 58th Street to Junction Boulevard, said DenDekker.

Although these changes “aren’t exactly what we wanted,” DenDekker observed, they are a step in the right direction for Northern Boulevard.

According to Make Queens Safer, Giovanni Ampuero was the fifth child killed on Northern Boulevard in less than six years. The other children who were killed were Noshat Nahian, 8, Miguel Torres, 11, Olvidio Jaramillo, 17, and Jahair Figuero, who was just 3 years old at his time of death.

“They were all crossing in the crosswalk with a green walk signal when they were struck by drivers failing to yield to the pedestrians in the crosswalk. The drivers are 100 percent responsible for these deaths,” DenDekker said.

Peralta said that changes to the site of the crash and all along Northern Boulevard needed to be further examined.

“We cannot allow Northern Boulevard to become the new ‘old Queens Boulevard’, which was known as the Boulevard of Death. Changes at this location are welcomed, but we need to determine if additional changes are needed along this busy corridor,” Peralta said.