By Carlotta Mohamed
A senior woman who struck and killed a 17-year-old girl earlier this year pleaded guilty in court last week and surrendered her driver’s license, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.
The defendant, Sheila Kahn-Prager, 88, of Whitestone, pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment in the death of Madeline Sershen, of Flushing, Sept. 20 at Queens County Criminal Court.
Kahn-Prager was given a conditional discharge after promising to surrender her license and help Sershen’s family push for mandatory retesting of seniors by the Department of Motor Vehicles, Brown said.
“This was an extremely sad and tragic case. The victim was a promising young lady who would be in her final year of high school, if she were alive today,” said Brown.
Sershen, an honor student at St. Francis Prep in Fresh Meadows , was walking within the white lines of the crosswalk and with the green light at 16th Avenue and Utopia Parkway in Whitestone when she was mowed down by Kahn-Prager June 25.
Police arrested and charged Kahn-Prager with running a red light, failing to yield to a pedestrian, and failing to exercise due care.
If Kahn-Prager is arrested again within a year, she faces one year in prison, Brown said.
“We’re grateful that she took accountability, but it doesn’t bring us any peace. Nothing will bring Maddie back,” said Rita Barravechio, Sershen’s aunt. “Individuals like Sheila make wrong decisions everyday… Her actions were not a split second mistake, it was a series of choices to continue to drive.”
According to Barravechio, Kahn-Prager had admitted that glaucoma had caused her vision to deteriorate, and continued to drive despite being involved in a previous accident in 2013 at the age of 83. Barravechio said that adults who have older parent drivers need to evaluate their driving capabilities.
“No matter what they do or how they think, Maddie’s blood will forever stain the hands of Sheila and her son, who allowed his mother to drive knowing fully well she was incapable,” Barravechio said.
Sershen’s family members were present in the courtroom wearing yellow T-shirts, which was Maddie’s favorite color. The color yellow also symbolizes hope in the push for legislation to be passed for retesting of seniors at the DMV, Barravechio said.
Since Sershen’s death, the family has received an outpouring of support from friends, family, community members, and local elected officials.
Julian Ho, a Whitestone resident and father of a 2-year-old son, started an online petition after Sershen’s deathin June on chang
“I really believe that the DMV has to take accountability for this,” said Barravechio. “They’re the ones reviewing individual licenses without a reliable test.”
According to Barravechio, a new task force has been formed with different families who have suffered at the hands of elderly drivers.
“We call it the DMV Renewal Reform Task Force,” said Barravechio. “One of the individuals, she was fortunate to live from the collision, but everyday she’s dealing with the pain of being hit — in her case it was an 87-year-old driver.”
Barravechio said the incidents have pushed her to fight harder in her effort to demand change.
“Driving is a privilege, not a right. Every driver needs to look in the mirror and ask themselves if they are capable of driving,” said Barravechio. “People need to acknowledge their limits and make life a greater importance than their wants.”
Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmoha