Part of riding with Right of Way is hearing stores about preventable deaths on the streets of New York City. Yet, few of the deaths seem to strike quite the same chord as the story of Allison Liao, the young child who was walking with the right of way who was killed by a car which swerved into the lane at the corner of the corner of Main Street and Cherry Avenue, running her over as she held the hand of her grandmother. We painted a memorial for her on my first ride with the group.
|Right of Way memorial for Allison Liao.|
Over a year later, her story still haunts. The unfinished business of her loss remains.
Awake at 3:30 am, the hearing for the driver, Ahmad Abu-Zayedeha, who killed Allison would take place in a few hours. Charlie from Right of Way and I were making plans to meet at the 7:41 am train out to Queens for the DMV hearing.
We’d arrive an hour before the hearing began, meeting Liao’s parents and other street justice activists. Standing outside the DMV, we wondered how any of us could handle such a loss. Yet, there's a community of activists out supporting each other as we push forward, trying to get to the bottom of whats happened and try to change the system allows these deaths to continue without resolution.
|Street justice activists hold sgns with scenes from the crash which took Allison's life.|
Right of Way@RightOfWayNYC later tweeted out a message:
Advocates for safer streets out front of DMV hearing for driver who killed Allison Liao. #VisionZero
Waiting for the hearing, a few of us talked about what had happened that day in October 2013.
The driver, Ahmad Abu-Zayedeha, took a left into traffic and ran into Liao. At the time, the driver was charged with failure to yield, which was a violation and then the charges were dismissed in a minute long hearing. The driver said he thought she broke away from her grandmother, without watching the video which clearly shows she was holding her grandmother’s hand.
Later as result of this case, the city passed intro 19-190 making it a crime for a car to injur or cause injury to someone with the right of way.
That law went into effect in August explained Keegan. Yet, it has only been enforced eight times. Now the city has to actually enforce it.
It is one thing to have a law; its another to change hearts and minds. That’s part of the dilemma. People have to look out for each other. And today, not enough hearts or minds have changed.
“The whole system needs to be redone,” noted Paco, referring to the statistics that 132 pedestrians, 20 cyclists died last year.
Few of the transportation advocates are pushing for more punishments.
“But to see some accountability,” noted Charlie Romanoff, of Right of Way. We talked about a Streetsblog article about drivers who have killed pedestrians. He referred to a comment by D Porpentine's arguing that the way to help a driver who has killed to process his grief and shame is via a "process that would assess his level of responsibility for what occurred [and thereby] bridge the gap between his story and reality."
|The driver, Ahmad Abu-Zayedeha, entering.|
Later, Allison’s parents spoke with the press.
"We hope the outcome of this is to suspend his license. For him, it’s an inconvenience. But that’s all. Our life is shattered. We hope this can shed light on this problem. Allie’s gone. His behavior took her. It was preventable. He drank before he left. He’s a wreck less driver. He put his needs ahead of ours. And that’s the problem. He never reviewed the video. He still says the mom let her run away. It wasn’t her fault. We’re going to ask to have his license taken away. She’s having trouble sleeping. This isn’t something we’re going to get over."
Eventually, the clerk called for the driver to appear. But his lawyer was not ready.
|The driver, Ahmad Abu-Zayedeha.|
And the hearing was not ready for us.
|The OG's of Right of Way.|
First they tried to restrict media from coming inside, adding a new sign, and then from allowing those of us who’dtraveled to the hearing to come inside. Democracy at its finest.
But most of us made our way into the building.
And at the hearing the judge was reticent to hear information or admit evidence from Steve Vaccaro, pertaining to the case, noting the driver has alcohol in his system at the time he killed Allison.
|Steve Vaccaro and Allison Liao's family enter court. |
"We should be gong to birthday parties not going to visit her at her grave site."
Right of Way@RightOfWayNYC later tweeted out a message:
2/2 @NYSDMV refused to accept as evidence his NJ driving record that he had for majority of that time & includes viols & worse. #VisionZero
By the end of the hearing the judge had collected some ten pieces of evidence. The wheelsof justice are slow. No decision was made.
So we rode home.
January 6, 2015
Families for Safe Streets Demands Justice for Allison Liao and DMV
Reforms to Hold Reckless Drivers Accountable
On October 6, 2013, an SUV driver struck and killed three-year-old
Allison Liao as she walked hand-in-hand with her grandmother in a
Flushing crosswalk, with the light. In spite of video evidence clearly
showing the driver's recklessness, the Queens District Attorney
refused to bring charges against Ahmad Abu-Zayedeha. The NYPD did give
the driver two summonses for failure to yield and failure to exercise
due care. Outrageously, however, an administrative law judge with the
State Department of Motor Vehicles threw out those tickets.
This morning, the DMV is holding a special safety hearing to
determine if Abu-Zayedeha has any culpability that would result in
action regarding his driver's license. Allison's parents and other
members of Families for Safe Streets will attend and hold a
candlelight vigil at the crash site that evening. The group is
demanding that the next DMV commissioner implement five reforms to
hold drivers accountable when careless or reckless behavior results in
death or serious injury:
• A mandatory three-month license suspension for serious offenses while driving
• Changes to the DMV point system so that higher point values apply to
violations where someone is seriously injured or killed, and drivers
cannot use adjournments to push points outside the 18-month window and
• A mandatory license suspension of at least three months for
commercial drivers who accrue six or more penalty points
• Mandatory, prompt and publicly-noticed safety hearings at which
victims, their families, and NYPD crash investigators can attend,
present evidence and make statements; quarterly reporting of aggregate
safety hearing outcomes and other statistics
• DMV adoption of the equivalent of the Federal Crime Victim's Bill of
Rights for the families of crash victims
“The decision to dismiss these tickets was extremely troubling, and I
hope that today’s hearing will finally hold the driver accountable for
his actions," said Congresswoman Grace Meng. "The DMV must do the
right thing in this case, and my colleagues in government and I will
be watching this hearing closely.”
"The DMV's response to the tragic passing of Allison Liao not only
serves as a call to action for our community, but also illustrates the
need to reform the procedure by which the DMV handles traffic
fatalities," said Assemblywoman Nily Rozic. "No family deserves to be
left with unanswered questions while coping with the loss of their
child. Allie's death is a chilling reminder that we must work with
local and state agencies to prevent future incidents and protect our
City Council Member Peter Koo said, “I wish we weren’t gathered here
today because that would mean Allison would still be with us and her
loving parents. But out of this tragedy, we stand united, with a
renewed sense of purpose. Our purpose is to make sure that reckless
drivers are held accountable for their actions, and to push for
necessary reforms in order to prevent the loss of precious life in the
DETAILS: The DMV administrative hearing will take place on January
6th, at 9 am at 168-35 Rockaway Boulevard, Jamaica, NY 11434-5233,