After Hit-and-Run Death, Queens Pols Blame “Distracted Pedestrians”

Assemblyman Michael DenDekker thinks pedestrians are to blame for the city's hit-and-run epidemic. Photo: David Meyer
At a press conference to call for action after the hit-and-run killing of Ovidio Jaramillo, Assembly Member Michael DenDekker blamed pedestrians for their own deaths. Photo: David Meyer

A hit-and-run driver killed 17-year-old Ovidio Jaramillo at the intersection of Northern Boulevard and Junction Boulevard in Jackson Heights on Tuesday night. In response, Queens electeds held a press conference today at the site of the crash, where they called for laws and education campaigns to stop “distracted pedestrians.”

The driver, who has yet to be apprehended, struck Jaramillo at 10:50 p.m. as he was crossing Northern Boulevard from north to south.

Instead of calling attention to street design that encourages speeding, or state laws that limit the city’s ability to deploy speed enforcement cameras, State Senator Jose Peralta and Assembly Member Michael DenDekker mostly blamed the victims of dangerous driving.

Peralta said he would push for legislation requiring DOT to mount a public education campaign about “the dangers of being a distracted pedestrian.” DenDekker called for crossing guards at every school corner, which he said would be funded by speed camera fines, and talked up a law he has proposed to make texting in crosswalks illegal.

NYPD told Streetsblog there was “nothing whatsoever” in the police account of the crash to suggest that Jaramillo was distracted by an electronic device when he was struck. When pressed on why the proposals focused on pedestrian distractedness, which hasn’t been implicated at all in Jaramillo’s death, Peralta implied that enough had been done to calm traffic. “We have tons of things to hold drivers accountable,” he said. “I’m supportive of Vision Zero, but we need to have more education campaigns.”

DenDekker pushed for his proposed $25 fine for texting in a crosswalk. “The idea of the bill is not to fine per se pedestrians but to change behavior,” he said. “Pedestrians need to be aware of their surroundings.”

Also present at the press event was Assembly Member Francisco Moya, whose recent contribution to Queens street safety policy has been an obstinate campaign to block a road diet and protected bike lane on 111th Street alongside Flushing Meadows Corona Park. “Ovidio’s life should not have ended so soon and his death should be a call to action,” Moya said, but he proposed no course of action to protect people from hit-and-run drivers.

The intersection of Northern Boulevard and Junction Boulevard is especially dangerous. According to NYPD, 25 crashes have occurred there so far this year, leading to eight injuries and one death. In 2013, a driver hit and killed 3-year-old Jahir Figueroa at the same intersection.

Both streets are wide, leading to excessive speeding and dangerous turning movements. The situation is begging for a street redesign, but none of the three electeds mentioned that possibility.

The three legislators could also use their positions in Albany to make streets safer. State law currently limits the number of operational speed cameras in NYC to no more than 140, and those cameras must be in the vicinity of a school and can only operate during school activities. According to WNYC’s map of speed cameras, there have been cameras on Northern Boulevard near the crash site, but none are currently active.

With fewer restrictions on the speed camera program, the full length of deadly streets like Northern Boulevard could be enforced at all hours. In the event of a hit-and-run crash, camera footage could be used to apprehend the driver. None of the legislators mentioned these potential remedies, which they could help pass in Albany.

Speaking after the press conference, DenDekker expressed confidence that Jaramillo’s killer would get caught, charged with vehicular manslaughter and sent to jail, but the NYPD admitted to the City Council last week that of the 48 “catastrophic” hit-and-run incidents causing severe injury or death this year, only 28 have been prosecuted.

Jaramillo’s friends and family, including his grandmother, attended the press conference. “Ovidio was our best friend,” said his friend ToniAnn Wittmer. “He was always there to put a smile on your face no matter what said.”

Rich Furlong, who lives near the intersection, blasted the legislators for their tone-deaf proposals. “They’re using this poor kid’s death to push their don’t-text-and-run campaign,” he said. “They’re blaming the victim.”

Photo: David Meyer
Photo: David Meyer