Driver Who Challenged Right of Way Law Pleads Guilty, Is Fined $50 for Killing Queens Senior

Ana Urena hit Jao Lin Zhu, 80, in a crosswalk. She ultimately pled guilty to violating Zhu's right of way, but there is no indication that her license was suspended or revoked.

Main Street at Maple Avenue in Flushing, where Ana Urena killed 80-year-old Jao Lin Zhu in 2015. Photo: Google Maps
Main Street at Maple Avenue in Flushing, where Ana Urena killed 80-year-old Jao Lin Zhu in 2015. Photo: Google Maps

A motorist who killed a senior in a Flushing crosswalk has pled guilty to violating the victim’s right of way after a failed attempt to have the charge dismissed.

At around 8 6 a.m. on February 20, 2015, Ana Urena hit 80-year-old Jao Lin Zhu with a Ford van as Urena turned left from Maple Avenue onto Main Street.

Urena told police she “heard a thump” while making the turn. Zhu sustained head trauma and died in the hospital.

Urena, then 34, was charged with a misdemeanor under the city’s Right of Way Law after police reviewed video of the crash. She was also cited for failing to exercise due care.

Urena challenged the constitutionality of the Right of Way Law in court, claiming that the city statute is preempted by state law and denies due process rights. Queens District Attorney Richard Brown defended the law and its application in Urena’s case.

Judge Karen Gopee ruled that the Right of Way Law — code Section 19-190 — is consistent with state Vehicle and Traffic Law 1146. Gopee held that, even if the laws were in conflict, state law “expressly permits local law to supercede [sic] state law in the area of pedestrian and vehicle right of way.”

Gopee dismissed Urena’s claim that the law is unconstitutional because it applies a due care standard, which does not require proof of the driver’s “culpable mental state,” rather than a gross negligence standard, which does:

Given that a due care-reasonably prudent standard is recognized in several New York criminal statutes and has been upheld by the Court of Appeals, it is clear that the standard is accepted, and therefore does not unjustifiably restrict defendant’s State Constitutional rights.

Gopee issued her ruling last November. Earlier this month, Urena pled guilty to the Section 19-190 charge, according to court records. She was sentenced to a $50 fine plus $50 in fees.

Streetsblog can find no evidence that Urena’s driving privileges were affected.

Court records give no indication that her license was suspended or revoked as part of the plea agreement. When a driver kills someone, the state Department of Motor Vehicles is supposed to convene a safety hearing, where an administrative law judge weighs evidence to determine whether that driver’s license should be suspended or revoked. But the DMV web site says Urena’s hearing was adjourned at the district attorney’s request.

Citing the Mathieu Lefevre case as an example, attorney Steve Vaccaro, who represents crash victims, told Streetsblog the DMV will often forgo a safety hearing if a motorist who kills someone is penalized by the justice system, even if the court imposes no license sanctions:

In the Lefevre case, it appears that the DMV indefinitely delayed the fatality hearing it would ordinarily have convened to review the driver’s license, in seeming deference to the Kings County DA’s inactive hit-and-run investigation that was still technically open. Although DMV is allowed to apply additional penalties for driver misconduct on top of any applied by the criminal justice system, in practice this appears to occur rarely or not at all — even when the criminal sanction is nothing more than a small fine.

The DMV ultimately found the driver responsible for Lefevre’s death, and suspended his license. But the hearing occurred several years after the crash, and was convened only after Lefevre’s family pressured the DMV to act.

Streetsblog has asked Brown’s office if Urena’s driving privileges were, or may be, suspended or revoked as a result of the crash that killed Jao Lin Zhu. We’ll update this post if we get a response.

Update: Brown’s office sent the following:

Ana Urena pleaded guilty on June 9, 2017, to AC 19-190(A) (Right of Way) and was sentenced to attend a six week Attitudinal Dynamics of Driving training program and pay a $50 fine. In pleading guilty, Ms. Urena allocuted that: On February 20, 2015, at approximately 5:54 am, I was driving a 2013 gray Ford van going eastbound on Maple Avenue, I made a left turn to go northbound on Main Street and, at the intersection of Maple Avenue and Main Street, I struck the complainant (Zhu Jao Lin), who was in the crosswalk, and who had the right of the way. I did not see her in the crosswalk when I struck her.

Nothing was mentioned at the time of plea or sentencing about a DMV hearing.