My God, he’s going to hit me—but I never even finished thinking the thought when Blam! the speeding taxi screeched round the corner and sent me somersaulting head over heels, as I was placidly crossing with the light. The result, to a bystander at least, was comedy not tragedy, as I landed on my well-upholstered backside, my briefcase still in my hand, my mouth open in bewilderment, and not a tear in my pinstripes. The ambulance and cop cars arrived before I grasped what had happened. Are you all right? Do you want to go to the hospital? I shook my head. The cops hauled me to my feet. I could stand up fine, so I ambled on my way, not quite all there yet. As for the cabbie, a scowling brute from South Asia, whose insolently unconcerned expression seemed to say that all this commotion was wasting his valuable time—the cops said, “Okay, you can go.”
He could go? I thought as my head cleared. He could go? Why didn’t the scoundrel at least get a ticket, or have his hack license pulled, or get deported to wherever he came from? No consequences whatever for plowing one ton of metal into a law-abiding pedestrian, especially one right in front of his eyes, had he been looking?
This was years ago, but the long-buried rage came rushing back as I read in DNA.info’s Upper West Side leaflet what happened to a driver who killed Jean Chambers, a 61-year-old wife and mother, in July 2014, as she crossed West End Avenue with the light just one block from where I’d been hit. This time the vehicle was a giant SUV weighing two and a half tons. The driver, Roberto Mercado, 52, had hit three other pedestrians, including a 13-year-old, in only the previous six months, though thankfully none died. Plus, he had driven without a license for more than 10 years. Mercado’s response? It was the victim’s fault, he told his insurance company. She should have seen him coming.
At least the cops didn’t tell him he could go. Convicted of criminally negligent homicide, he drew a sentence of one to three years last week. And that’s absurd. The callous lout should rot in jail.
New York has too long failed to recognize that guiding 2,000 or more pounds of metal along the congested city streets is a life-or-death responsibility. If through your own fault you hurt or kill someone with this instrument, why is that any different from doing it with a gun? Gotham has at least begun to see the light on this matter, referring to traffic “crashes” now, instead of traffic “accidents,” which implied that no human agency guided such events, and no one should be held accountable. But that’s only a tiny advance.
I once saw a taxi hit a little boy who dashed out from between two parked cars without looking at the very instant the cab was passing. No driver on earth could have slammed on the breaks in time. But such genuine accidents are the exception, not the rule. New York’s laws need to recognize that the pedestrian’s right to walk on the street unmolested is absolute, as long as he observes the traffic lights and crosswalks. Getting run over by a car is not a standard risk we take by strolling the Gotham pavements. Any driver who injures or kills a law-abiding pedestrian is a criminal and needs to be punished as such. Why the city allowed Mercado to injure three citizens, while committing the further crime of driving without a license, is something that I hope the traffic and police commissioners will investigate, with appropriate disciplinary action, and that Chambers’s husband will ask in a multimillion-dollar lawsuit.
Photo by faungg's photos