April 17, 2014

Department of Transportation Conducts First-Ever Nationwide Campaign Against Texting and Driving

According to figures recently released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 3,328 people were killed in 2012 as the result of distracted driving crashes. In the same time period, 421,000 people were injured as the result of distracted drivers. To combat the ever-increasing problem of cell phone use and texting and driving, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced the start of National Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April 2014. The program will combine a nationwide advertisement campaign as well as a high-visibility law enforcement crackdown on distracted driving.

cell driver.jpgThe $8.5 million advertising campaign will be on television, radio and the Internet and will be conducted in both English and Spanish. The ads will contain the catch phrase U Drive. U Text. U Pay. Discussing the new ads, Secretary Foxx remarked, "This campaign puts distracted driving on par with our efforts to fight drunk driving or to encourage seatbelt use. Across the country, we're putting distracted drivers on notice: If you're caught texting while driving, the message you receive won't be from your cell phone, but from law enforcement--U Drive. U Text. U Pay." The advertising campaign will also be combined with a nationwide, high-visibility law enforcement crackdown on texting and driving from April 10 to April 15, 2014. During this time, thousands of law enforcement personnel will use traditional and innovative techniques to catch distracted drivers. Currently, 43 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have laws banning texting and driving for all ages; twelve states, D.C. Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban cell phone use among drivers of all ages; thirty-seven states and D.C. prohibit cell phone use among new drivers.

Before launching the nationwide campaign, the federal government tested the program in California and Delaware. The program, which used the phrase Phone in One Hand. Ticket in the Other, proved to be effective. In California, police issued 10,700 tickets for distracted driving. In Delaware, police issued 6,200 tickets to drivers who were on the phone or texing. In addition, observed hand-held cell phone use dropped by 33 percent in each area. In California, such use dropped from 4.1 percent to 2.7 percent; in Delaware, observed cell phone use dropped from 4.5 percent to 3 percent.

NHTSA Acting Administrator David Friedman stated that the national program should be just as effective as the test campaigns in California and Delaware. He remarked, "National campaigns like Click It or Ticket and local efforts like Phone in One Hand. Ticket in the Other. show that combining good laws with effective enforcement and strong public education campaigns can--and do--change driving behaviors. We will continue to work with our federal, state, and local partners to urge drivers to put down electronic devices and focus on the task of driving."

More about the campaign can be found here at the NHTSA website.

April 9, 2014

Motor Vehicle Crashes the Leading Cause of Death Among Teenagers

In 2011, teenagers aged 14 to 18 accounted for 21 people, or seven percent, of the population in the United States. Many of these young people were learning, preparing or just beginning to drive. However, according to figures released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), car accidents were the number one cause of deaths among this age group. Of the 2,105 teen drivers who were involved in fatal car crashes, almost half of them--45 percent--died. Moreover, of those teen drivers killed, one in five, or twenty percent, of them did not have a valid driver's license.

accident.jpgThe NHTSA study also revealed that speeding was a factor in 35 percent of fatal accidents involving teen drivers. In addition, 27 percent of teenagers involved in fatal crashes had alcohol in their systems even though all states have Zero Tolerance Laws which prohibit anyone under 21 to have any alcohol in their systems while driving. Twelve percent of teen drivers involved in a fatal accident were distracted at the time of the crash. Moreover, the study revealed that most crashes occurred between 3 and 8 p.m., and 3 percent of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes were not wearing a seatbelt. When a teen driver does not wear his or her seatbelt, the passengers in the vehicle are likely to follow the driver's example.

The NHTSA research also pointed out that teen drivers are more likely to engage in risky behaviors while other teenagers are in the car with them. Such risky behaviors include speeding. The study showed that a teen is 2.5 times more likely to engage in risky behaviors when one other teenager is in the car. However, teen drivers are three times more likely to engage in such behaviors when multiple teenagers are in the vehicle.

There are, however, several steps parents can take to reduce the risk of their teenage driver from being involved in a crash. For instance, all states have Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) restrictions which gradually introduce new drivers to more challenging driving conditions. The restrictions focus on travel times, numbers and ages of passengers and risky behaviors. Most of these restrictions are lifted over time, usually in three stages. Parents can support teen drivers by reviewing these conditions with their children and imposing their own family restrictions. Studies suggest that parents who impose such restrictions reduce their teenager's chances of being involved in an accident.

In addition to discussing GDL restrictions and imposing restrictions of their own, parents of teens can also take their children on practice driving sessions. Under parental supervision, teenage drivers can learn how to drive in inclement weather and different traffic situations. Parents can also teach teens how to moderate speed to accommodate for various conditions. The more active parents are in teaching and discussing driving with their teenagers, the less likely their children will be involved in an accident.

The NHTSA study can be accessed here.

The New York Car Accident Attorneys at Gallivan & Gallivan will protect your rights if you have been injured in a car accident. Our attorneys have a proven track record of obtaining maximum compensation for our clients. Contact Gallivan & Gallivan, Attorneys at Law.

April 9, 2014

Attorney General: NYPD's Stop and Frisk Policy Has Conviction Rate of Three Percent

According to a November 2013 report released by the New York State Attorney General's office, only three percent of people arrested as a result of stop and frisk pled guilty or were convicted of a crime. The study, titled "A Report on Arrests Arising from the New York City Police Department's Stop-and-Frisk Policies," analyzed stop and frisk data obtained from the NYPD and the Office of Court Administration from 2009 through 2012. The report's aim was to study what happened to individuals who were arrested as a result of the NYPD's policy. During the four year period, the NYPD conducted 2.4 million stops. Of those stops, 150,000 people--six percent--were actually arrested. Of those arrested, only three percent were actually convicted of a crime.

According to the report, most convictions--40 percent--that were a result of stop and frisk were quality-of-life crimes involving graffiti or disorderly conduct. Thirty-three percent of the stop and frisk convictions were related to drugs, trespassing or property crimes. However, only one in sixteen arrests, or 0.3 percent, resulted in jail time for more than 30 days. In addition, only one in 50 arrests, or 0.1 percent, led to a conviction of a violent crime. Similarly, only 0.1 percent of stop and frisk arrests led to convictions for possessing a weapon.

Furthermore, the report revealed that almost half of all stop and frisk arrests resulted in no conviction because many cases weren't prosecuted, many cases were dismissed, or many cases were dismissed if the defendant agreed not to commit another crime for one year. Almost 25 percent of those arrested had their cases dismissed even before they were arraigned.

The report, which pointed to the fact that a disproportionate number of those stopped were black or Latino, also concluded that the stop and frisk policies had negative consequences for those arrested as well as for law enforcement and judicial institutions. For instance, some people arrested suffered a job loss, loss of housing, loss of a student loan or a change in their immigration status as a result of being arrested. In addition, New York City saw a large uptick in lawsuits alleging constitutional violations by the NYPD. In 2009, the NYPD had the largest number of legal settlements in the country. As a result of these findings, the report concluded, "These findings merit consideration in the broader discussion of the efficacy of stop and frisk as a law enforcement tool."

Commenting on the report, Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman remarked, "My office's analysis of the city's stop and frisk practices has broad implications for law enforcement, both in New York City and across the state. It's our hope that this report--the first of its kind--will advance the discussion about how to fight crime without overburdening our institutions or violating equal justice under the law."

The study can be accessed here.

April 9, 2014

Thirteen Injured in Brooklyn Apartment Building Fire

fire door.jpgThirteen people were injured in a fire that broke out in a six story Brooklyn apartment building in March 2014. According to FDNY officials, two firefighters were among the injured, and four people were taken to the hospital as a result of their injuries. A 54-year-old man was listed in serious condition at Lutheran Hospital, where he was taken after plunging several stories from his fifth floor apartment and landing on scaffolding.

The fire broke out at 6:30 a.m. in the fourth floor apartment of tenant Idalia Quinones. Quinones, who was able to escape the building with her husband and three sons, stated, "I opened the door to the room and all I see is smoke. So I panicked and I woke my boys up." Firefighters were able to control the blaze after being on the scene for 30 minutes.

Jordan Alston, a neighbor, witnessed the 54-year-old man fall onto the scaffolding. He said, "He tried to grab the tree branch, it wasn't strong enough and it was wet. So he just fell on the scaffold."

A video posted on Instagram showed the man dangling from his fifth story apartment window by a bedsheet. As firefighters attempted to rescue him with a ladder, he suddenly dropped. According to Quinones, the man almost made it out of the apartment, but he turned back to get his wife. The couple was trapped by thick black smoke. Firefighters were able to rescues the man's wife.

The cause of the blaze, which occurred in the Red Hook Houses of Brooklyn, is still under investigation.

Website Resource: Man Plunges Several Stories, 13 Injured In Brooklyn Fire, CBS News, March 30, 2014

Man Plunges Several Stories Amid Brooklyn Fire; 13 Injured, NBC News, March 31, 2014

April 8, 2014

NHTSA Announces New Rule Requiring New Vehicles to Have Rear Visibility Technology

Officials from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced in March 2014 that all new vehicles under 10,000 pounds, including small buses and trucks, must have rearview visibility technology by May 2018. Rearview visibility technology often consists of a small camera placed on the back of a vehicle; the camera takes live video which is displayed on a monitor on the dashboard. Such systems expand a driver's visibility beyond what they can normally see in mirrors while backing up a vehicle. Under the new NHTSA requirement, a rearview visibility technology system must provide a field of view that is a 10-foot by 20-foot zone directly behind the vehicle. In addition, such systems will have requirements pertaining to image size, linger time, response time, deactivation and durability.

rearview.jpgAccording to statistics released by the Department of Transportation (DOT), 210 fatalities and 15,000 injuries occur each year as a result of backover accidents. Children under the age of five-years-old account for 31 percent of backover fatalities. Moreover, adults ages 70 years old or older account for 26 percent of such fatalities. The new rear visibility technology requirements are expected to save between 58 to 69 lives each year.

While many car manufacturers are already making vehicles with such technology as a result of consumer demand, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx pointed out that making such systems a requirement will improve overall safety on the roads. He stated, "Safety is our highest priority, and we are committed to protecting the most vulnerable victims of backover accidents--our children and seniors. As a father, I can only imagine how heart wrenching these types of accidents can be for families, but we hope that today's rule will serve as a significant step toward reducing these tragic accidents."

NHTSA Acting Administrator David Friedman stated that rear visibility technology was already a part of the agency's New Ca Assessment Program (NCAP), a program that informs consumers about new safety features, such a forward collision warning systems, in vehicles. Friedman remarked, "Rear visibility requirements will save lives, and will save many families from the heartache after these tragic incidents occur. We're already recommending this kind of life-saving technology through our NCAP program and encouraging consumers to consider it when buying cars today."

Greg Gulbransen, a pediatrician in Oyster Bay, New York, accidentally backed over his two-year old son in 2002, resulting in his tragic death. Since then, Gulbransen has spent the past twelve years lobbying lawmakers and governmental agencies to require rearview visibility technology in all new vehicles. Commenting on the NHTSA's new rule, he stated, "It's been a long hard fight, and this is rule took too long, but we're thrilled this day has finally come. I'm glad we could channel our grief into a policy change. That was important."

Website Resource: Mandatory backup cams could save 69 lives a year. Dad who fatally injured son in accident claims ruling took too long, Tech Times, Michael McEnaney, April 4, 2014

NHTSA Announces Final Rule Requiring Rear Visibility Technology

April 8, 2014

Wrongful Death Lawsuit Accuses General Motors of Knowing about Faulty Ignition Switch for 10 Years

According to a lawsuit filed in March 2014 on the behalf of several Minnesota families of three teenagers severely injured or killed in a 2006 crash linked to a faulty ignition witch, General Motors knew about the switch's defect for over a decade but never took action to solve the problem. Since February 2014, after receiving much pressure from lawmakers and federal agencies, General Motors has issued a recall of 2.6 million vehicles that contain the faulty ignition switch. The defective part has been linked to 12 deaths and 34 crashes nationwide. The recall includes the Chevrolet Cobalt and HHR, the Pontiac G5 and Solstice, and the Saturn Ion and Sky.

steering wheel.jpgThe faulty ignition switch causes vehicles to turn off while driving, resulting in the loss of power brakes and power steering, as well as disabling the air bags. The problem is triggered by jostling keys or a heavy key ring that causes the ignition switch to turn off. GM has strongly recommended that owners of the recalled vehicles remove all excess items from the key ring to prevent the problem from occurring before having the issue fixed. While all dealerships should have the correct parts to make repairs beginning in April 2014, GM has instructed dealers to provide consumers with loaner or rental cars until the repairs are made.

However, according to the wrongful death lawsuit recently filed in Minnesota state court, three teenage girls were involved in a major car accident in 2006 when a 2005 Chevy Cobalt's ignition switch suddenly turned off. As a result, the 19-year-old driver, lost control of the vehicle and hit two trees. She suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of the crash. Her two passengers, a 15-year-old girl and an 18-year-old girl, were killed in the accident. The lawsuit is asking GM to compensate the families $50,000 each for the tragic incident. In addition, the lawsuit alleges that GM knew of the switch problem since 2001.

Robert Hilliard, the attorney for the Minnesota families, stated, "GM hid this dangerous life-threatening defect from my clients and all other Cobalt drivers for over a decade just to avoid the cost of a recall. GM is guilty of betraying our trust."

However, the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) has also come under fire for not detecting the problem and issuing a recall. The agency has the authority to force manufacturers to recall defective vehicles. On three separate occasions, the NHTSA conducted special investigations related to the faulty switches.

GM chief executive Mary T. Barra apologized that the company did not issue a recall sooner and stated that the manufacturer is committed to getting the unsafe vehicles off the road. She stated, "We are taking no chances with safety. Trying to locate several thousand switches in a population of 2.2 million vehicles and distributed to thousands of retailers isn't practical. Out of an abundance of caution, we are recalling the rest of the model years."

Former NHTSA administrator Joan Claybrook stated that GM is merely reacting to pressure from lawsuits and lawmakers. She said, "What is so interesting to me is what the pressure of the public spotlight and the possibility of criminal penalties have done to force this company to behave."

Website Resource: GM expands ignition-switch recall, Washington Post, Michael A. Fletcher

GM Hit With Wrongful Death Lawsuit Over Ignition Defect, Reuters, Jessica Dye, March 24, 2014

April 7, 2014

The Basic Facts and Guidelines about Motor Vehicle Safety Defects and Recalls

According to a report issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 30,000 people were killed in 2009 as a result of car crashes. Motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of debilitating injuries in the United States and are the number one cause of death for people under the age of 34. While the number of traffic-related deaths has been declining over the years, the NHTSA is committed to ensuring that all vehicles on the road adhere to federal safety standards to reduce the number of lives lost on the road.

airbag.jpgEnacted in 1960, the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act allows the NHTSA to issue safety standards for cars and to require manufacturers to issue recalls, at no cost to consumers, for vehicles that have safety defects. While most manufacturers issue safety recalls on their own, the NHTSA can take legal action to force a manufacturer to issue a recall. Since 1960, 390 million vehicles, 46 million tires, 66 million pieces of motor vehicle equipment and 42 million child safety seats have been recalled due to safety defects.

According to the United States Code for Motor Vehicle Safety, vehicle safety is defined as "the performance of a motor vehicle or motor vehicle equipment in a way that protects the public against unreasonable risks of accidents occurring because of the design, construction, or performance of a motor vehicle, and against unreasonable risk of death or injury in an accident, and includes nonoperational safety of a motor vehicle."

An example of a defect is a steering component that breaks, causing a person to lose control of the vehicle. Fuel systems that leak, especially after a crash, is another example of a safety defect. Other examples include airbags that deploy when they shouldn't, accelerators that stick, or wiring that can cause fires or malfunctioning headlights. However, issues such as malfunctioning radios or air conditioners are not considered safety-related defects.

The NHTSA must follow four steps to determine if a vehicle recall is warranted. First, the agency must review the number of complaints it has received regarding an issue. Second, it must see if there are any petitions calling for an investigation. Third, the NHTSA will conduct an investigation into the mate, and finally the agency will conduct and manage a safety recall. If a recall is warranted, a manufacturer has three options: repair the defect, replace the part or parts in questions, or issue a refund. Manufacturers must notify registered owners of the safety recall by first-class mail. They are required to explain the problem and where and how the consumer can get the defect fixed free of charge.

Once a recall has been initiated, consumers injured as a result of a safety defect can pursue legal action to recover compensation as a result of their injuries.

Website Resource: Motor Vehicle Defects and Safety Recalls: What Every Vehicle Owner Should Know

April 7, 2014

Former NYC Employee Sentenced to Probation for Falsifying Crane Inspection Records

Justice Thomas Farber of the State Supreme Court in Manhattan sentenced former city employee Edward J. Marquette, 51, to five years probation in February 2013 for falsifying crane inspection records. In July 2012, Farber found Marquette guilty of filing a false instrument, falsifying business records and official misconduct. However, Marquette was found not guilty of charges of falsifying inspection records related to a crane collapse in 2008 that killed seven people, including six construction workers and a woman visiting from Florida.

gavel.jpgAn investigation into Marquette's crane inspection records began after the fatal 2008 crane collapse. Officials discovered that Marquette entered a logbook entry stating that he had inspected the crane 11 days before it collapsed. Justice Farber stated that prosecutors did not prove Marquette actually filed official documentation claiming to have inspected the crane. However, investigators did find that Marquette claimed to have inspected six other cranes when, in fact, he never actually visited the sites.

According to prosecutors, Marquette's cell phone records proved that he was "either at home or at a local bar" when he said he was inspecting the six cranes. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance said Marquette's actions put peoples' lives at risk. He stated, "There are lifesaving reasons why the Department of Buildings has protocols and a set of standards in place for crane inspectors. By lying about inspecting cranes, the defendant put the safety of New Yorkers at risk."

Prosecutors requested that Marquette, who resigned from his job after his arrest, be sentenced to one to three years in prison. However, Judge Farber stated, "The case is not as it appeared to be originally and things change, people change." Farber pointed out that Marquette now has his drinking problem under control and required the defendant to stay sober as part of his probation sentence. In addition, Farber stated that Marquette's actions were "condoned" by his supervisors.

Farber stated, "If I err, I would prefer to err on the side of mercy."

Website Resource: Former Crane Inspector Is Found Guilty of Filing False Records, NY Times, Russ Buettner, July 20, 2012

Inspector in 2008 Crane Collapse Gets Probation, NY Times, Russ Buettner, February 13, 2013

April 7, 2014

Martin Tankleff Receives Over $3.3 Million from New York in Wrongful Imprisonment Settlement

Martin Tankleff received a $3.375 million settlement in January 2014 as a result of a wrongful imprisonment lawsuit he filed against New York State. Tankleff spent 17 years in prison after being convicted of the brutal murders of his parents in 1988 in the Belle Terre home on Long Island. Tankleff was released from prison in 2007 after an appeals court overturned his conviction based on strong evidence that a former business partner of Tankleff's father was involved in the murders.

prison.jpgIn 1988, Tankleff's parents were bludgeoned and stabbed to death in their Long Island home. Suffolk County Police Detectives immediately focused their investigation on the couple's son Martin, who was only 17 at the time. Police lied to Tankleff by stating that his dying grandfather had regained consciousness in the hospital and told them that his grandson had committed the brutal murders. While Tankleff gave a verbal confession, he did not sign it and immediately recanted his statement to police. Tankleff was convicted in 1990 as a result of his coerced and false confession and was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison.

In 2007, an appeals court overturned the conviction, stating that a lower court did not consider strong evidence that Tankleff's father's business partner was involved in the killings. According to Tankleff's attorney, the business partner, Jerry Steuerman, who co-owned a bagel story with Tankleff's father, owed the father $500,000. Steuerman was the last to see Tankleff's father alive and immediately faked his own death after the murders and fled to California. Tankleff's attorney maintains that Steuerman was never considered a suspect, but that he actually hired two hit men to murder the Tankleffs. Steuerman has denied his involvement in the murders and repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right to self-incrimination in a deposition about the case.

Then-Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo dropped the charges against Tankleff when he was released in 2007.

Tankleff's attorney, Barry J. Pollack, commented on the monetary settlement with New York State. He said, "No one can give Martin Tankleff back the nearly two decades he has spent in prison for a crime he did not commit. Mr. Tankleff's supporters have known all along that he had absolutely nothing to do with the murder of his parents."

In a separate case still pending in Federal Court, Tankleff is suing Suffolk County and the detectives who investigated his case. Tankleff said, "I am looking forward to my federal trial where I hope to expose the misconduct that caused my wrongful conviction so that it does not happen to anyone else."

Since his release from prison in 2007, Tankleff has gotten married, become a paralegal, and is currently pursuing his law degree from Touro Law School, where he will graduate in May 2014.

Website Resource: Martin Tankleff settles false imprisonment suit for $3.37M, Newsday, Andrew Smith, January 7, 2014

Martin Tankleff gets more than $3.3 million settlement from New York state, NY Daily News, John Marzulli, January 8, 2014

April 7, 2014

NJ Jury Awards Man $8 Million for Elevator Accident

A New Jersey jury awarded a Sussex County man in February 2014 $8 million for an elevator accident that occurred in Morristown in 2005. According to court documents, Richard Tufaro of Branchville, who was 48 at the time of the accident, was working as a carpenter on a remodeling project in the lobby of Headquarters Plaza, a New Jersey hotel. At the end of the day, Tufaro, who was wearing a 30-pound toolbelt and carrying a 75-pound shoulder bag, took an elevator from the lobby to the parking garage, which was four stories below.

elevator1.jpgIn his court testimony, Tufaro said that the elevator was "shaking, (and) very bumpy." Tufaro said that the elevator then came to a "very abrupt stop" and he was thrown into the elevator's maintenance panel. As a result of the accident, Tufaro suffered spinal injuries, including nerve damage to his neck and back, several herniated discs in his vertebrae, and a shoulder injury that required surgery.

Tufaro sued Schindler Elevator Corporation, the Morristown based company in charge of maintaining the elevator. In 2012, a jury awarded him $4 million in damages. However, Schindler did not admit that the accident caused Tufaro's injuries, although the company did admit that the elevator malfunctioned.

Tufaro and his attorney, Andrew Fraser, decided to appeal the jury's verdict and seek a new trial. In a second trial that lasted 11 days, a jury doubled Tufaro's original $4 million award to $8 million.

According to Fraser, Schindler relied heavily on "secret surveillance" videos that the company took of his client from 2007 to 2010 in an attempt to prove that Tufaro was not really injured. However, Fraser said that the secret video actually helped his client's case. Fraser said, "It [the video] showed him doing nothing, gaining weight, shuffling off to his mailbox and other people doing work on his house...The surveillance was the best evidence to show how badly he was injured."

Charles Dewey Cole, Jr., a law professor at Seton Hall Law School, said that it is unusual for attorneys to seek a second jury trial. In most cases, when a jury verdict is overturned on appeal, both parties try to seek an out-of-court settlement. Cole stated, "The last thing anybody wants to do is try a case a second time. You just don't want to do it...It's a complete do-over, a fresh start. A different jury can award whatever it feels is fair and reasonable compensation."

Cole said that Schindler will probably challenge the second jury's award. He said, "It's a nice award, I'll say. But the $8 million range seems a little high."

Website Resource: Second jury doubles original $4M award to Sussex man injured in elevator mishap, The Star-Ledger, Joe Moszczynski, February 16, 2014

April 7, 2014

NYC Officials: Fatal Blast that Leveled Two Apartment Buildings Likely Caused by Gas Leak

According to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Edward Foppiano, Con Ed's senior vice president of gas operations, a March 2014 explosion that destroyed two East Harlem apartment buildings was likely caused by a gas leak. The blast, which leveled two 5-story buildings on Park Avenue and East 116th Street, killed seven people and injured 63 others; two of the injured people suffered life-threatening injuries.

Con Ed spokesperson Bob McGee said that the utility received a call at 9:13 a.m. about a possible gas leak at the buildings. While crews were dispatched two minutes later to investigate the leak, they arrived on the scene immediately after the explosion, which occurred at 9:31 a.m.

Mayor de Blasio remarked at a press conference, "This is a tragedy of the worst kind because there was no indication in time to save people."

According to Con Ed's records, workers performed a routine check and maintenance of the buildings' gas lines on February 28, 2013 and did not detect any problems. One of the buildings had a gas leak in May 2013, and it was fixed the following month. A spokesperson for the Building Department pointed out that one of the buildings obtained a city permit to install 120 feet of gas piping which was installed in June 2013. However, city records revealed that one of the buildings had received a long list of violations going back decades. The building was cited for lacking smoke detectors, having blocked fire escapes and broken lighting fixtures. In 2008, the building received a fine for not repairing and maintaining vertical cracks in the rear of the structure.

As firefighters sifted through a two-story pile of rubble, and as utility workers tore up pavement to shut off gas lines, one of the buildings' residents, who only identified herself as Angelica, told reporters about her experience during the explosion. She said, "I heard a big explosion. I didn't know what was going on...my neighbors came banging on my door, telling me to get out. I guess they were evacuating the building. And I couldn't get out. My door was jammed. Everything on my windowsill fell. I guess the impact of the explosion jammed the door as well."

While 200 firefighters responded to the scene, Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassona stated that the emergency workers barely missed the explosion. He said, "If we were here five minutes earlier we may have had some fatalities among firefighters. Not being here may have saved some lives."

Mayor de Blasio said that crews were working hard to find survivors. He stated, "We're expending every effort to locate each and every loved one. Hopefully we'll find that some of them are in other parts of the city and have just not been located yet."

Members of the National Transportation Board, which investigates gas pipe explosions, were dispatched to New York to assist with the investigation.

Website Resource: Nine still missing after Manhattan explosion leaves at least 4 dead, 63 hurt, CNN, Rey Sanchez, March 13, 2014

Death toll rises to 7 in Harlem gas leak explosion, USA Today, Melanie Eversley and Doug Stanglin, March 13, 2014

March 26, 2014

Registered Nurse Charged with Stealing Morphine Intended for Patients

pills3.jpgKatherine Falzetta, 23, a Registered Nurse at the Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Clinton, New York, was arrested in May 2013 for stealing morphine from patients not under her care. Falzetta appeared in Plattsburgh City Court before Judge Mark Rogers and was released on her own recognizance. She was charged with first-degree falsifying business records, a felony; fourth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, a felony, and petit larceny, a misdemeanor. Falzetta later pled guilty and was sentenced to three-years probation.

According to officials, employees at the hospital noticed a discrepancy in the amount of morphine they had and then contacted the New York State Attorney General's office, which then asked Plattsburgh City Police to assist in the matter. City Police Lt. Scott Beebie said, "We were very active in the investigation. We had investigators assigned to it from day one."

The investigation uncovered that Falzetta took morphine intended for patients in November 2012. In one instance, she removed two doses of morphine for a patient not under her care. In another instance, she removed nine 4 mg doses of morphine intended for a patient not under her care.

Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, commenting on the arrest, said, "By bringing charges against anyone who steals controlled substances, like morphine, we are taking action to combat the epidemic of prescription drug abuse in New York. My office will continue to bring charges against those who violate the law and those who abuse their positions to illegally obtain narcotics."

Website Resource: Nurse charged with morphine theft, Press Republican, Felicia Krieg, June 1, 2013

March 26, 2014

MTA Driver Killed, Three Injured, after Stolen Truck Collides with Bus in the City

bus stop.jpgWilliam Pena, 49, a 17-year veteran of the MTA and a father of a 14-year-old daughter, was killed in February 2014 after a stolen box truck driven by Domonic Whilby, 22, crashed into the bus he was driving in Greenwich Village. According to police, Pena was thrown from the driver's seat and landed under the bus; he was pronounced dead at the scene. Three of the bus' passengers were treated for non-life threatening injuries. Whilby was taken to Bellvue Hospital, where he was treated for minor neck injuries and was tested for drugs and alcohol. Whilby faces ten charges, including manslaughter, grand larceny, criminal assault, criminal mischief and criminal trespass.

According to witnesses of the accident, which occurred at 5:30 a.m. at the intersection of West 14th Street and 7th Avenue, Whilby ran a red light and then hit the bus. Before coming to a final stop at the corner of the intersection, the truck and bus hit parked cars, a cab, sidewalk scaffolding, a subway entrance, and a person on a scooter.

Eddie Abdelmorty, the driver of the scooter, was uninjured. He said, "He [Whilby] didn't even brake...He went right through the red light at the end of the block."

According to reports, Whilby was partying late into the night before the accident. After being thrown out of a nightclub around 3:30 a.m., Whilby became angry when he couldn't find a limousine that was supposed to take him home. Victor Vega, a superintendent of two apartment buildings on West 16th Street, said that Whilby began angrily knocking of tenant's doors. Vega said, "He was sweating like a mad dog. He had to be high on drugs. He started kicking and banging the doors."

When a box truck making an early morning delivery was temporarily parked beneath the Maritime Hotel, Whilby jumped into the vehicle and sped away. He crashed into the bus not far from where he stole truck.

Anthony Flores, 34, a co-worker of Pena, said that many people don't realize the dangers bus drivers face while navigating the city's busy streets on a daily basis. Flores said, "He was doing a hard job. People don't understand the magnitude of the job and the obstacles we face."

Website Resource: MTA driver killed after truck allegedly stolen by Tyson Beckford's nephew collides with bus in Greenwich Village, NY Daily News, Marianne Garvey, February 12, 2014

March 26, 2014

NTSB: States Should Lower Legal BAC Limit to .05

According to a recommendation given by members of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in 2013, states should lower the legal blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) limit from .08 to .05. The NTSB pointed to the fact that 10,000 people are killed in car crashes each year by drivers who have been drinking, but who are not at the .08 limit. According to government statistics, a driver with a .08 BAC increases his or her chance of being involved in a crash by 169 percent; a driver with a BAC of .05 increases his or her chance of being involved in a crash by 38 percent. The NTSB pointed out that most industrialized nations have a BAC limit of .05. In 2000, former President Bill Clinton signed a law that would prevent states from receiving federal highway funds if they did not adopt the .08 BAC limit.

breathalyzer2.jpgA person's BAC varies by weight, gender and how much he or she has eaten. However, under normal conditions, a typical 180-pound man could consume four beers in a 90 minute period without reaching the .08 limit. However, the same man could only consume three beers in the same time period to reach the .05 limit.

Sarah Longwell, managing director at the American Beverage Institute, disagrees with the board's recommendation. She said, "Moving from .08 to .05 would criminalize perfectly responsible behavior." Furthermore, she pointed out that "further restriction of moderate consumption of alcohol by responsible adults prior to driving does nothing to stop hard-core drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel."

In addition to lowering the BAC limit, the NTSB also recommended that first-time drunk driving offenders be required to install Breathalyzer interlock devices in their cars. Such devices prevent a car from starting if a person blows into it and has been drinking. Moreover, the board suggested that research should be done to look into requiring all vehicles to contain alcohol sensors on steering wheels that would detect a person's BAC through his or her palm.

However, according to J.T. Griffin, spokesperson for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, reducing the BAC limit to .05 would only target social drinkers. While he said his organization wouldn't oppose such a change, he stated that other measures, such as requiring mandatory interlock devices for all DWI offenders, would be more effective in targeting drunk drivers. He said his group also favors allowing highway patrol officers to automatically take the license of anyone they arrest for drinking and driving.

Each year, drunk driving accounts for 30 percent of all vehicle fatalities.

Website Resource: States Urged to Cut Limit on Alcohol for Drivers, NY Times, Matthew L. Wald, May 14, 2013

March 24, 2014

NHTSA: Light Cars to be Enabled with Vehicle-to-Vehicle Technology to Improve Safety

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced in February 2014 that it will move forward with plans to install vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications technology in light cars. According to research conducted by the Department of Transportation (DOT), V2V technology has been proven to reduce crashes, including rear-end collisions, accidents at intersections, head-on collisions, as well as crashes that result from lane changes.

multi car.jpgV2V works by allowing nearby vehicles to "talk" to each other. The technology allows vehicles to exchange basic information, such as position and speed, with each other ten times per second. The technology can detect dangerous situations hundreds of yards away that may not be seen by a driver. If a threat is detected, the technology will sound an alarm warning the driving about an impending collision. For instance, V2V technology would warn a driver if an unseen car is rapidly approaching an intersection. Currently, V2V does not act upon or engage any driving systems, such as the brakes or steering. In the future, however, V2V may be combined with sensor technology to help save travel time and reduce fuel consumption.

According to NHTSA Acting Administrator David Friedman, V2V will likely become a standard feature in future vehicles. He said, "V2V crash avoidance technology has game-changing potential to significantly reduce the number of crashes, injuries and deaths on our nation's roads. Decades from now, it's likely we'll look back at this time period as one in which the historical arc of transportation safety considerably changed for the better, similar to the introduction of standards for seat belts, airbags, and electronics stability control technology."

While the technology was tested in labs, in 2012 3,000 vehicles outfitted with V2V technology were road tested in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The road test was successful and showed that the technology reduces crashes.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said, "Vehicle-to-vehicle technology represents the next generation of auto safety improvements, building on the life-saving achievements we've already seen with safety belts and airbags. By helping drivers avoid crashes, this technology will play a key role in improving the way people get where they need to go while ensuring that the U.S. remains the leader in the global automotive industry."

The NHTSA is currently working on a proposal that would require all vehicles in the future to have V2V technology. For more information on V2V technology, click here for the NHTSA website.