Victims Arrested, Assailants Walk Free: Dark Days for Traffic Justice

Few regular readers of this blog need to be convinced that pedestrians and cyclists of all stripes — i.e. the vast majority of New Yorkers — are completely vulnerable to serious injury and death at the hands of reckless motorists. Though collisions, near misses and confrontations occur with such frequency that even fatalities often go overlooked in the media, every now and then a flurry of events shows just how far we have to go in balancing the scales of traffic justice. To wit, here’s what’s happened in the last few days:

  • Last Thursday, 8-year-old Axel Pablo was struck down by a yellow cab driver as he and family members crossed a Harlem street. Witnesses say the driver, Akim Saiful Alam, was speeding and talking on a cell phone as he rounded the corner and hit Axel in the crosswalk at Lexington Avenue and 112th Street, and that he would have fled the scene had bystanders not forced him to stop. The crowd cheered as Alam was taken away in cuffs, but he was released a short time later, NYPD having determined that he had violated no laws.
  • On Friday morning, Queens pedestrian Gerald Beekman had his first court appearance stemming from a May incident in Long Island City. Beekman was arrested by NYPD officers and charged by District Attorney Richard A. Brown’s office with criminal mischief for allegedly damaging the vehicle of a driver he says nearly ran him over, along with his two dogs, two times in a matter of minutes. From what we can determine, Beekman’s accuser, the unidentified driver, faces no charges. (An update on Beekman’s case is forthcoming.) Meanwhile, cyclist Ray Bengen — facing a criminal mischief charge in Manhattan for touching the SUV of a driver he thought was about to mow him down — has seen his livelihood threatened as DA Robert Morgenthau’s office keeps him in legal purgatory.
  • Yesterday Gawker reported that Morgenthau’s office will not be pursuing charges against Don Broderick, the driver who allegedly attacked Central Park cyclist Brian Dooda with his SUV in June. Broderick is said to have hit Dooda before driving through the park with the cyclist hanging onto the hood, then driving off. A Morgenthau spokesperson told Gawker that prosecutors “could not sustain the burden of proof on personal injury” but declined to comment on the decision not to charge Broderick with leaving the scene.
  • On Friday evening, cyclist and safe streets advocate James Langergaard died at a Queens Boulevard intersection. His relatives were told that witnesses say Langergaard, an experienced and by all accounts conscientious rider, ran a red light. But as in the case of Rasha Shamoon, another cyclist known for safety whose fatal August 2008 collision was recounted to police by her killer and his friends, the circumstances of Langergaard’s death went uninvestigated and unreported by local media.

To sum up: Tell the police a pedestrian or cyclist touched your vehicle, have the perp hauled in. Get taken for a ride on the hood of a raging sociopath’s SUV, or watch your child struck dead by a speeding distracted driver, police and prosecutors just can’t make a case. Tell the police you saw a motorist break the law and injure or kill, get ignored. Tell the police you saw a pedestrian or cyclist break the law and get injured or killed, case closed.

It is hopeful that DA candidates are taking traffic justice seriously in the current election. Help can’t come soon enough.