By Mark Hallum
Raul Ampuero held back tears through squinted eyes as he recalled the day his 9-year-old son was killed in a hit-and-run on Northern Boulevard in Corona in April.
Ampuero was not the only one at the July 12 news conference hosted by state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) calling for the extension and expansion of speed camera legislation on the corner of Junction and Northern Boulevard.
Others like Ampuero held up photos of their deceased family member, claiming alternative plans to mitigate pedestrian deaths are no substitute for speed cameras and the legislation that has been extended year after year, including the recent session, during which opponents argued that additional signage could make the streets safer.
“There hasn’t been a single day that I have forgotten my son and I don’t think I will ever,” Ampuero said of his son Giovanni. “I’m extending my arm to Republicans and asking, please, extend the speed cameras and to put more cameras. We only had 140, we’re looking for 150 more… This is going to help driver to reduce their speed, why is it so difficult to understand this? I can’t imagine why, I lost my son.”
An 86-year-old man who claimed to be on his way home to Manhattan from Resorts World Casino was found at fault in the Giovanni’s death and admitted to police that he did not know he had struck someone until he was flagged down by a cab driver, according to the criminal complaint.
With just days left for the state Senate to possibly reconvene in Albany to extend speed camera legislation for another year, a rally in Corona called for Republicans’ help turn the vote in favor of the program in a special session.
“Are Republicans against protecting children? The school zone speed camera program saved countless of lives, so there is no logical reason to let it expire,” Peralta said. “We cannot play politics with schoolchildren and New Yorker’s lives, and this is why we must ensure we renew and expand the program. If the Republicans let this initiative expire, kids in summer school will travel to and from school on more dangerous streets.”
Lizi Rahman, founding member of Families for Safe Streets, lost her son .
“We know that people are dying because drivers are not careful,” Rahman said. “When I look at my son’s grave, I cry… We all have children, the elected officials are people. Those who are opposing it, they have kids, they have families. Please, for the sake of future generations, do this.”
The School Speed Camera program has lowered speeding by 63 percent and reduced pedestrian injuries by 23 percent in places where it was implemented, according to the city Department of Transportation, but the program is set to expire July 25.
The legislation has been renewed every year since 2016 with Democrats aiming for an expansion of 50 cameras every year for the next three years.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has come out in favor of the renewal, with Northern Boulevard being a major target of the Vision Zero initiative.
City Comptroller Scott Stringer claimed that since the program’s launch in 2016, 2.5 million drivers have been issued tickets from the program with only about 82,000 repeat offenders; a sign it is working, according to Peralta.
So far, Democrats have all supported the program in the state Senate, alongside three Republicans, but it still does not have enough votes to pass.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall