Robert Johnson Charges Reckless Endangerment for Bronx Pedestrian Death

A motorist accused of killing a pedestrian in the Bronx has been charged with reckless endangerment by District Attorney Robert Johnson. Though the driver was allegedly breaking multiple laws at the time of the crash, he was not charged with a more serious offense under the so-called “rule of two.”

James Ruiz was allegedly breaking multiple laws when he struck a Bronx pedestrian. Photo: Daily News

The 55-year-old male victim, the first reported NYC pedestrian fatality of 2013, was struck at East Tremont and Mapes Avenues on the afternoon of January 5. Witnesses described a violent, high-speed crash. From the Daily News:

Horrified witnesses said the unnamed victim flew 20 feet after being hit by a red 1995 Honda shortly after 1 p.m.

“He landed twisted,” witness Cosmic Jones, 49, said. “His feet were up, but his face was down toward the pavement with blood coming from the head.”

The Honda, which had a smashed windshield and a human-sized indent on the driver’s side, was left on Tremont Avenue as investigators inspected the scene.

“The car was flying down the street,” said Dion Brannon, 26. “The guy was crossing the middle of the road, but by the time (the car) slowed down, it was too late.”

James Ruiz, 21, reportedly slammed into the victim hard enough to sustain a laceration to the head, possibly from the car’s shattered windshield.

Ruiz was initially charged with aggravated unlicensed operation, failure to exercise due care and criminal impersonation, according to NYPD. Online court records indicate that current charges against Ruiz are unlicensed driving, third degree aggravated unlicensed operation, false impersonation, reckless driving, and a top charge of second degree reckless endangerment.

Per New York State code, “A person is guilty of reckless endangerment in the second degree when he recklessly engages in conduct which creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person.” In lay terms, reckless endangerment requires proof that a driver was aware of a risk of seriously injuring someone else, according to attorney Steve Vaccaro.

Traffic safety advocates have long for called for NYPD and city district attorneys to bring charges of reckless endangerment against motorists who kill pedestrians and cyclists, but such prosecutions are relatively uncommon. It is possible that the circumstances of this crash — the victim run down on a neighborhood street by an accused speeding driver in broad daylight — coupled with Ruiz’s other alleged offenses prompted the more serious charge.

Second degree reckless endangerment is a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail. Though Ruiz was charged with a host of offenses, he was not charged for taking a life, despite the “rule of two,” which holds that a New York State motorist who is breaking at least two traffic laws at the time of a crash may be charged with criminal negligence.

NYPD had not yet released the identity of the pedestrian when we contacted the department days after the crash, and a Johnson spokesperson said the DA’s policy against disclosing information on pending cases also applies to the names of victims, even when the victim has died.

We will continue to follow this case as it develops.