Senior Who Killed Pedestrian Madeline Sershen Pleads Guilty

As part of her plea agreement, Sheila Kahn Prager also agreed to sign a petition circulated by Sershen's family calling for regular retesting of older drivers.

Video still: WNBC
Video still: WNBC

The 88-year-old who struck and killed 17-year-old Madeline Sershen in a Whitestone crosswalk earlier this year has pleaded guilty and agreed to give up her driver’s license, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said yesterday.

Madeline Sershen was killed by a driver who ran a red light in Whitestone on June 25. Family photo.
Madeline Sershen was killed by a driver who ran a red light in Whitestone on June 25. Family photo.

Sheila Kahn Prager, who had glaucoma and a track record of unsafe driving, pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment. In addition to surrendering her license, Prager was slapped with a one-year probation. She also agreed to sign a 23,400-signature petition, circulated by Sershen’s family, calling on Governor Cuomo and the state Department of Motor Vehicles to require drivers over 80-years-old be retested every two years.

In the June 25 crash, Prager ran a red light at 16th Avenue and Utopia Parkway, and slammed into Sershen, who was in the crosswalk. Police charged her with failure to yield, failure to exercise due care, and running the light.

“Madeline Sershen was walking within the white lines of the crosswalk and with the green light when she was hit and fatally injured,” Brown said in a statement [PDF]. “The defendant at the time of her arrest said she didn’t see the steady red light nor the youngster crossing the street.”

Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia take special precautions when re-administering licenses to seniors — but not New York. On its website, the state DMV bemoans the “psychological ramifications” for seniors who give up driving, and advises drivers with a “decrease in driving skills” to restrict their driving to daylight hours, off-peak hours, familiar roads, and short trips.

Sershen’s family and friends were on hand for yesterday’s brief hearing, Patch reported.

“You are nothing to this world but a murderer and a thief,” the victim’s sister, Olivia Sershen, told Prager. “You killed my 17-year-old baby sister because of your negligence.”

Rita Barravecchio, Sershen’s aunt, provided the following statement to Streetsblog:

Today Shelia Kahn Prager pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment in the 2nd degree. Her lawyer stated that she agrees to assist the family in their move  for change in DMV legislation. She will also be signing the petition for renewal reform. Although she took full accountability for her actions it does not bring our family any peace. Individuals like Sheila make wrong decisions everyday. Shelia’s decisions led to the death of our Maddie. Her actions were not a split second mistake it was a series of choices including to continue to drive after an accident when she was 83. And a few years later, after admitting her vision became worse and being diagnosed with glaucoma, [she] still drove.

No matter what they do or how they think Maddie’s blood will forever stain the hands of Sheila and her son who allowed his mother to drive knowing full well she was incapable.

It’s time for people to start putting life over convenience. It is a shame that individuals and their sense of entitlement take the lives of the innocent too often. Driving is a privilege not a right. Every driver needs to look in the mirror and ask themselves if they are capable of driving . adults who have older parent drivers need to discuss their abilities and evaluate their driving capabilities. People need to acknowledge their limits and make life a greater importance than their wants.

Prosecutors rarely charge drivers who kill pedestrians unless there are multiple offenses beyond merely hitting the walker. The bus driver who killed Citi Bike cyclist Dan Hanegby last year, for example, is only facing a charge of violating the victim’s right of way, punishable by only 30 days in jail. Advocates and lawyers say driver Dave Lewis could easily have been charged with reckless endangerment, too.

“It is an outrage that there is no punishment whatsoever,” said Transportation Alternatives Legislative Director Marco Conner. Still, Conner said, it’s a difficult balance between punishment “simply for retribution” and imposing penalties that would deter others who should not be behind the wheel from driving.

“License revocation is critical and should be applied more often,” he said. “The DAs don’t use that power enough.”