Bronx DWI Pedestrian Killer Gets 90 Days and Six-Month License Suspension

A judge sentenced a convicted drunk driver to just 90 days in jail and a six-month license suspension for killing a pedestrian in the Bronx.

Thomas Riley, 23, was crossing East Fordham Road near Bathgate Avenue at around 4:20 a.m. on March 20, 2011, when 48-year-old Seth Johnson struck and killed him with a minivan, according to a Post story published the day after the crash.

Victim Thomas Riley and his son Julien. Photo via Daily News
Victim Thomas Riley and his son Julien. Photo via Daily News

Riley worked as a barber and had a young son. “My family is now torn apart because a drunk driver took his life away,” Riley’s sister told the Post.

Johnson was charged by Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson with manslaughter, homicide, speeding, reckless driving, leaving the scene, and separate counts of driving while under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Last December a jury acquitted Johnson of manslaughter, homicide, and leaving the scene, finding him guilty on one count of driving drunk and one count of driving while impaired by drugs and alcohol.

“As a prosecutor, I accept the verdict of the jury,” Bronx vehicular crime chief Joe McCormack told Streetsblog after the trial. “We brought what we felt were appropriate charges, and we did the best we could trying the case.”

Johnson faced a year in jail, but on March 28, Judge Nicholas J. Iacovetta sentenced him to 90 days, three years probation, and $870 in fines, according to court records. His license was suspended for six months. So unless the New York State DMV takes action to keep him off the road, Johnson could driving again before long.

From the Daily News:

“He will be in jail for less than three months and I have to live with a life sentence,” the victim’s mother, Aurea Rivera, said after Bronx Supreme Court Justice Nicholas Iacovetta read the decision. “I want the laws changed so that no one else has to suffer like us.”

Rivera, joined in the courtroom by nearly a dozen friends and relatives, read a statement before the court and called on Mayor de Blasio and other elected officials to toughen vehicular manslaughter and drunk driving laws.

New York State law and the courts routinely work in favor of people who kill while driving drunk. To convict on vehicular homicide, prosecutors must be able to prove that impairment caused a motorist to operate a vehicle in a manner that caused death. This burden of proof is often insurmountable, and it is common for NYC prosecutors to decline to bring homicide charges against drunk drivers who kill pedestrians. Manhattan DA Cy Vance recently called on Albany to remove barriers to DWI evidence, which hamper prosecutions.

The DMV has the power to decide when or if a New York motorist who loses his license will get it back, and is also complicit in keeping killers on the road. For example, a DMV judge relied primarily on testimony from the motorist who killed pedestrian Clara Heyworth — who was driving in violation of his learners permit at the time of the crash — to determine if his driving privileges would be restored. A man accused in March of killing his 11-year-old stepson while driving drunk had two prior DWI convictions, one of which stemmed from a crash, yet he had a valid license, according to reports.

Seth Johnson was taken away in cuffs after last week’s sentencing hearing, the Daily News said. He is due back in court in June to pay his fines.