‘Kids don’t need to die’: Father of boy killed in Queens hit-and-run calls for safety laws at vigil

Raul Ampuero said he has become a fighter for safer streets in the 12 months since his 9-year-old son’s death on Northern Boulevard.

The father of 9-year-old Giovanni Ampuero led a vigil walk through Jackson Heights on the one-year anniversary of his son’s death at the Northern Boulevard intersection where the boy was fatally struck by an elderly driver.

From I.S. 140 to the corner 70th Street and Northern Boulevard, Raul Ampuero along with family and activists commemorated Giovanni’s life while they renewed a call for greater prosecution for reckless drivers and a review of laws allowing long-in-tooth New Yorkers access to driver’s licenses.

“No matter what, our children need to be protected. That’s my goal,” Raul Ampuero said. “I turned this sadness into a great victory. Because my son Giovanni is not here is no reason for me whatsoever. It shouldn’t happen to any other child … People come first. Kids don’t need to die.”

Ampuero believes there should be more legal action against reckless drivers and believes traffic incidents could be prevented by not renewing the driver’s licenses of elderly people who may be on medication that inhibit their ability to drive.

According to Juan Restrepo, a Queens organizer for Transportation Alternatives, the push for more serious convictions against reckless drivers may seem contrary to the overall social movement to decrease incarceration rates across the country.

But if a driver stays at the scene and is cooperative with law enforcement, more often than not, the criminal justice system proves too easy on them, Restrepo said.

Raul Ampuero hangs a sign memorializing his son on the anniversary of his death on Northern Boulevard. (Photo: Mark Hallum/QNS)

According to Ampuero, the 81-year-old man who hit his son was never detained or handed any serious convictions.

“Where is the justice?” Ampuero asked.

Ampuero’s calls for justice and reform were not lost on other parts of the borough.

Giovanni’s death on May 2 was followed in June by that of Madeline Sershen, 17, who was killed when an 88-year-old woman allegedly ran a red light in Whitestone and hit the Flushing teen. A group of advocates began to urge the DMV to changed its license renewal policy for seniors.

Cristina Furlong is a founder of Make Queens Safer which took action against unsafe road conditions after three children were killed on Northern Boulevard in a 10-month period in 2013. Since then, four children have been killed.

Although the city Department of Transportation announced major redesigns of Northern Boulevard last autumn that would feature calming measures, Furlong does not believe this is happening fast enough.

Cristina Furlong discusses the trend of childhood deaths on Northern Boulevard.

“It seems like we always have to bring people out to march in the streets for something that should be part of city planning,” Furlong said.

Since Giovanni’s death, Ampuero said he has found a new home in Families for Safe Streets, an advocacy group formed by people who have lost loves on city streets.

A spokesman for DOT said the agency has held community meetings on the redesigns and some work is set to begin in the near future.

With the number of traffic deaths in retreat along Queens Boulevard, Northern has begun to earn the title “the new boulevard of death.”

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