DA Brown: $500 Fine for Unlicensed Driver Who Failed to Yield, Killing Senior

Update: Pursuant to a plea arrangement with Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, in March Abel Tinoco pled guilty to aggravated unlicensed operation and was fined $500, according to court records.

As NYPD ramps up enforcement against pedestrians who cross mid-block and against the signal, a funeral was held last week for a senior struck in a crosswalk by an accused unlicensed driver making an illegal turn.

Angela Hurtado, 68, was crossing Grand Avenue in Maspeth at around 11:00 a.m. on January 18 when 28-year-old Abel Tinoco made an illegal left turn onto Grand from 69th Place, hitting her with an SUV, according to published reports. She died hours later from head trauma.

Angela Hurtado. Photo via Queens Chronicle
Angela Hurtado. Photo via Queens Courier

Hurtado came to the U.S. from Ecuador when she was 21, according to the Queens Courier. She was a cancer survivor and was working as a housekeeper at 3 World Trade Center on 9/11. Along with area residents, Hurtado’s daughter Zoraya B. Torres said the family wants changes at the intersection where her mother was struck, to prevent another crash.

“My mom was a very humble woman, a good-hearted person and a loving mother,” said Torres. “It’s hard to believe that something so horrible could have happened to her.”

Court records say Tinoco was charged only with third degree aggravated unlicensed operation, an unclassified misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Tinoco’s license had been suspended since last October, according to the criminal complaint filed by Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. The complaint did not specify the cause of the suspension.

State Senator Michael Gianaris has introduced a bill to make it a class E felony  to cause serious injury or death while driving without a valid license, so long as the license was suspended or revoked for traffic offenses. A second bill would require drivers with suspended or revoked licenses to surrender their vehicle registrations and license plates. Gianaris held a press conference Sunday at Grand Avenue and 69th Place, calling on Albany lawmakers to pass the bills.

Since Tinoco was driving without a license and made an illegal left turn when he struck Hurtado, he should have been prosecuted for a more serious offense under the so-called “rule of two,” an arbitrary standard that 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.

City district attorneys often cite the rule of two as an obstacle to filing charges when a motorist is reported to have broken one traffic law, such as running a stop sign, before killing a pedestrian or cyclist, yet prosecutors routinely fail to adhere to the rule when a driver is accused of breaking two or more traffic laws at the time of a fatal crash.

Third degree aggravated unlicensed operation is a go-to top charge for prosecutors when an unlicensed driver kills someone. It is the top charge against the driver who fatally struck 72-year-old Maude Savage as she crossed a Brooklyn street, in a crosswalk and with the signal, last November. At least nine pedestrians were killed by unlicensed drivers in 2013, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog.

We asked Brown’s office why Tinoco was not charged with negligence pursuant to the rule of two. In response, a spokesperson sent us a copy of the criminal complaint. Tinoco’s next court appearance is scheduled for March 12.

Streetsblog asked Gianaris yesterday if he is satisfied with the rule of two. “No, not at all, and there’s efforts to change the rule of two, which I support,” he said. “We need to get the policymakers’ heads around the fact that we are not dealing seriously enough with dangerous drivers.”

This fatal crash occurred in the 104th Precinct. To voice your concerns about neighborhood traffic safety directly to Captain Christopher M. Manson, the commanding officer, go to the next precinct community council meeting. The 104th Precinct council meetings happen on the third Tuesday of the month. Times and locations vary. Visit the precinct council web site or call 718-386-2431 for information.

The City Council district where Angela Hurtado was killed is represented by Elizabeth Crowley, who attended Gianaris’s event yesterday, as well as last night’s vigil for Ella Bandes and other traffic violence victims. To encourage Crowley to take action to improve street safety in her district and citywide, contact her at 212-788-7381, ecrowley@council.nyc.gov or @ElizCrowleyNYC.

With reporting by Stephen Miller