September 3, 2014

Teen Awaiting Manslaughter Trial Arrested Again for Vehicular Assault

Franklin Reyes, a Manhattan teenager awaiting trial for vehicular manslaughter stemming from the 2013 death of a four year old on the Upper West Side, is again in custody after allegedly dragging a police officer 100 feet during a traffic stop. The NY Daily News reports that during the stop, Reyes refused to put his car into park. When the officer attempted to reach inside the vehicle, Reyes sped off. The officer, whose arm was still inside the vehicle, was dragged along the road. The car finally came to a stop, after allegedly almost hitting another pedestrian, when Reyes crashed into a parked car.

When police were eventually able to detain Reyes, he was charged with assault in the second degree (a Class-D felony), unlawful fleeing of a police officer (a Class-E felony), reckless endangerment (a Class-A misdemeanor), reckless driving (a Class-U misdemeanor), and unlicensed driving. These charges, particularly the two felonies and reckless endangerment, could lead to significant jail time for Reyes if convicted. Perhaps more damaging, however, is the fact that the new charges could jeopardize a deal offered by the Supreme Court Justice in Reyes' original manslaughter case. The New York County Supreme Court Justice, the Hon. Gregory Carro, had reportedly agreed to offer Reyes a four year prison term in the manslaughter case.

The News article did not specify when Reyes is due back in court. It did note that Reyes had already been arrested this summer, subsequent to last year's manslaughter charges and prior to the current vehicular assault case. Reyes and his father were arrested on suspicion of looting the apartment of a dead woman earlier this year. These new arrests and charges certainly will not sit well with either the district attorney or Reyes' sentencing judge. The outcome of the trials, as well as the length of any potential prison term that Reyes may have to serve, is unknown at this time.

More on this story can be found here on the NY Daily News website.

August 31, 2014

Two Long Island Men File Lawsuits against GM Over Faulty Ignition Switch

ignition.jpgTwo Long Island men filed separate lawsuits in federal court in 2014 against General Motors over faulty ignition switches in their vehicles. The switches can suddenly turn to the "off" position, causing a vehicle to stall. As a result, a vehicle loses its power brakes, power steering, and the air bags will not deploy in an accident. Thirteen deaths have been linked to the faulty switches, and GM, which knew about the problem for over a decade, has recalled 17.3 million vehicles as the result of the defect.

New Hyde Park resident Dr. Steven Groman filed a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court against GM in April 2014. In the suit, Groman claims that his Chevy SUV shut off four times after he bought the vehicle brand new in 2008. On two occasions, Gorman was driving on the Long Island Expressway when his vehicle suddenly shut off, causing him to lose his power brakes and steering. Although Groman brought the vehicle back to the dealership to be fixed on numerous occasions, auto mechanics were never able to fix the problem. To avoid a serious accident, Groman decided to travel on back roads to go to work to avoid "another shutdown incident in fast-moving traffic." Fearing for his safety, Groman finally traded in his vehicle at a financial loss in 2011.

In June 2014, William Ross, a 65-year-old disabled Vietnam veteran, filed a similar lawsuit in federal court in Central Islip. The suit claims that Ross was in two accidents caused by a defective ignition switch in his 2005 Chevrolet Cobalt. While driving in Levittown in 2012, Ross lost control of his car when it suddenly shut down, causing him to hit a barrier. Ross suffered from "scarring and disfiguring" on his right arm, which is now in chronic pain. The accident caused $6,297 in damage to his vehicle. During a second accident in March 2014, Ross hit a divider on a local road when the key suddenly switch to the "off" position. Ross stated that the dealership told him that his car wasn't part of the ignition switch recall issued by GM. However, a week later, he received a notice in the mail from GM telling him that it was. Commenting on the lawsuit, Ross remarked, "It wasn't because of the money. It's because they [the dealership] lied to my face."

Kenneth Feinberg, an attorney hired by GM to oversee settlement payments related to the defective switched, stated that there is no limit as to how much the company will pay as a result of accidents and injuries caused by the switch. He stated, "GM has basically said whatever it costs to pay any eligible claims under the protocol they will pay it. There is no ceiling."

Website Resource: LI man sues GM over ignition-switch defect, NY Post, Rich Calder, April 8, 2014

Two LI suits targeting GM seek damages for faulty ignition switches, NY Newsday, Tom Incantulpo, July 3, 2014

August 31, 2014

87-Year-Old Long Island Woman Killed after Car Hits Tree

Francine Schenkel, an 87-year-old resident of Ridge, New York, died in July 2014 after the car she was driving veered off the road and crashed into a tree. Quoted in NY Newsday, police officials investigating the accident surmise that Schenkel was traveling northbound on Rocky Point-Yaphank road when she crossed into the southbound lane and veered off into the woods where she hit a tree. Schenkel was the only person involved in the accident, which occurred at 2:45 p.m. near Rocky Point High School, and was pronounced dead at the scene. Her vehicle was impounded for safety checks as investigators try to determine the cause of the accident, which shut down the roadway for several hours.

road.jpgDetective Sergeant William Bundrick stated that it didn't appear that the elderly woman was trying to swerve to avoid hitting something on the road. He stated, "She apparently left the roadway on her own. No one drove her off the road or cut her off or anything. We don't know if it was a medical emergency."

According to the National Institute of Health, elderly drivers often face several health-related challenges that can affect their ability to drive safely. For instance, as people age, their vision usually worsens. They may not be able to see cars or pedestrians from their peripheral vision; their eyes may not adjust to darkness or glaring headlights, making it difficult to drive at night. In addition, elderly people may suffer from hearing loss, making it difficult to hear sirens or horns that may be warnings of an impending collision.

Moreover, as drivers get older, they may experience slower reaction times and shorter attention spans; elderly drivers may suffer from a decline in cognitive function, making them slow to process multiple sources of information which can be overwhelming. In addition, taking multiple medications, including prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs, may also impair an elderly person's ability to drive. For example, certain cold medications may make a driver drowsy, resulting in slow reaction times.

Certain medical conditions that usually affect the elderly may also impact a person's ability to drive safely. For example, Parkinson's disease, a neurological disorder that causes involuntary shaking, may make it difficult for an elderly driver to apply to brakes or hold the steering wheel. A person who has suffered from a stroke may have difficulty controlling their arms and legs and may become easily confused. In addition, arthritis, which affects a person's joints, may make it difficult for an elderly person to hold the steering wheel or turn their head to view traffic and pedestrians. Finally, people with dementia, especially in the early stages, may get lost or become easily confused. As people age, they should talk to their doctors about their medical conditions to learn how they may impact their ability to drive safely.

August 31, 2014

NY Woman Injured after Hair Becomes Trapped in Escalator Stairs

escalator3.jpgA 32-year-old woman suffered serious injuries after her hair become trapped between escalator stairs on July 3, 2013. The woman, who suffers from epilepsy, suddenly lost consciousness while riding an escalator at a subway station at 125th Street and Broadway in Harlem, New York. After her head hit the steps, the escalator kept moving, trapping the woman's hair between the stairs. A nearby police officer who witnessed the accident hit an emergency button to shut down the escalator. The woman lost a significant amount of hair, as well as some of her scalp as a result of the accident. After being freed by emergency responders, the woman was transported to St. Luke's Hospital, where she was treated for cuts to her face, legs and arms. The escalator was shut down for two days after the incident.

Sha Johnson, who witnessed the entire accident, remarked, "She looked like she was passed out. She was wearing shorts and one of her legs was all cut up...I'll probably take the stairs from now on."

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, a governmental agency that oversees the safety of thousands of consumer products and items, approximately 11,000 people were injured in escalator accidents in 2007. A majority of these injuries were caused by falls; escalator steps are higher than regular steps and are not designed to be used like traditional stairs. When people try to climb escalator steps, they are susceptible to trips and falls. Ten percent, or roughly 1,100, of the injuries occur when a person's hand, foot, toes or shoes become trapped between moving steps. In many cases, people who sustained such injuries were wearing soft-soled shoes, such as flip-flops, while riding the escalator.

There are several actions a person can take to avoid escalator accidents. First, a person should never climb escalator steps to avoid trips and falls. Second, a person should only wear hard-soled shoes and ensure that their shoelaces are tied before riding an escalator. In addition, escalator riders should always stand in the center of the step to avoid becoming entrapped on the side of the steps. Moreover, people riding with children should hold a child's hand and make sure the children are not playing on the moving escalator. Riders should always face forward and hold onto the handrail to avoid falling in the event the escalator suddenly jolts to a sudden stop. People should never ride an escalator with a walker, baby stroller, wheelchair or shopping cart. Finally, riders should always be aware of the location of the escalator's emergency button which can be pushed to stop the escalator if an accident does occur. Stopping an escalator can prevent further harm or injuries to passengers.

More on this story can be found at NBC.com and gothamist.

July 16, 2014

Long Island Woman Charged Under Leandra's Law after Allegedly Driving Drunk with Five Children in the Car

Elba Ayala, a 43-year-old Shirley resident, was arrested over the Fourth of July weekend for allegedly driving drunk with five children in her car. The children ranged in age from seven months to eight-years-old. Another adult was also a passenger in the vehicle. Ayala was charged with one count of driving while intoxicated. Under Leandra's Law, she was also charged with one count of driving while intoxicated with a child passenger 15 years old or younger, and five counts of endangering the welfare of a child. If convicted of the top charge, a class E felony, Ayala could be sentenced up to four years in prison.

dwi.jpgAccording to police officials, the Suffolk County Highway Patrol Selective Alcohol Fatality Enforcement Team (SAFE-T), in conjunction with the Suffolk County Parks Police, were working at a sobriety checkpoint off of the William Floyd Parkway near Smith Point County Park on July 6, 2014. As Ayala approached the checkpoint in her 2010 Nissan Altima, she attempted to evade officials and did not stop her vehicle. However, police pulled Ayala over a short time later and determined that she was impaired. Ayala was arrested and transported to the Seventh Precinct. No injuries were reported as a result of the incident.

Over the holiday weekend, 1,077 cars went through the sobriety checkpoint. Including Ayala, five people were arrested for DWI as a result of the heightened enforcement efforts of police over the holiday weekend.

Leandra's Law was named after Leandra Rosado, an 11-year-old girl who was killed in 2009 as the result of a drunk driving accident. Leandra was in a vehicle driven by her friend's mother who was impaired when she crashed on the Henry Hudson Parkway in New York City. Although there were other children in the car at the time, Leandra was the only person killed in the crash. Prior to Leandra's death, the "Taconic Crash" claimed the lives of eight people, including four children in a car being driven by a drunk driver. As a result of these fatalities, Lenny Rosado, Leandra's father, called upon New York State lawmakers to toughen DWI penalties for people driving drunk with children in the car.

Lawmakers responded by passing Leandra's Law, which makes it a class E felony, punishable by up to four years in prison, to drive drunk with a child in the vehicle. If a child is injured, a drunk driver faces up to seven years in prison; if a child is killed, a drunk driver faces up to 15 years in prison. The law also requires all DWI offenders, even first time offenders, to install an ignition interlock device in their vehicles for at least six months.

July 16, 2014

Cement Truck Driver Sentenced Up to 15 Years for Fatal Accident Involving School Bus Carrying Children with Special Needs

Nassau County Judge William Donnino sentenced Raymond Ragen, 45, to up to 15 years in prison in July 2014 for causing a fatal accident involving a school bus carrying special needs children. After a three week trial, a jury convicted Ragen, a cement truck driver, of vehicular manslaughter and assault. He was acquitted of the top charge of aggravated vehicular homicide. The accident killed Jorge Guevara, the 45-year-old bus driver who was also a father of four. Louis Kragouras, 65, was a bus monitor and suffered crippling injuries as the result of the crash. Undergoing two surgeries, Kragouras had to have his hip replaced as well as a metal rod placed in his knee. A six-year-old autistic boy suffered from a broken jaw, a detached lip and permanent facial scarring. There were four special needs children on the bus at the time of the crash.

According to Assistant District Attorney Brendan Ahearn, Ragen was high on Valium and was talking on his cellphone when he was driving a 30,000 pound cement truck on Oyster Bay Road in Locus Valley in July 2012. Ragen's 13-foot truck then hit a 10-foot high Long Island Railroad overpass. The force of the impact sent the cement truck into the opposite lane, where the truck collided head-on with a school bus taking children home from summer camp. Guevara, the school bus driver, was pronounced dead at the scene.

overpass.jpgDuring the three week trial, however, Ragen's defense attorney told the jury a different story. The attorney claimed that Ragen's truck was sideswiped by a sports utility vehicle, causing Ragen to hit his head and lose consciousness. The truck then hit the overpass and then careened into oncoming traffic. Moreover, the attorney pointed out that there was only a small amount of Valium in his client's system and that police officers did not find Ragen to be impaired at the crash scene. Prosecutors, however, stated that there was no evidence indicating that an SUV was involved in the accident. In addition, they pointed out that Ragen's GPS showed that he had made a U-turn at the overpass earlier in the day and was aware that his truck was too tall to go under the bridge.

Commenting on Ragen's sentence, Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice stated, "The irreparable damage caused by Mr. Ragen's reckless actions will never be erased. Though nothing will bring back Mr. Guevara to his family, this sentence will ensure that this defendant will be held accountable for the pain and suffering he inflicted upon his victims that day."

Ragen has a criminal record that includes drug convictions. The victims of the crash are in the process of filing a lawsuit against the cement truck company that hired Ragen even though he had a known history of taking drugs.

Website Resource: Truck driver Raymond Ragen found guilty of manslaughter in fatal school bus crash, NY Newsday, Bridget Murphy, April 16, 2014

Cement truck driver gets up to 15 years for fatal crash into LI school bus, Associated Press, July 3, 2014

July 11, 2014

Parents of NY Teenager Killed in Car Crash Seek Tougher Distracted Driving Laws

The parents of Even Lieberman, a 19-year-old college student killed in a 2011 car accident, are calling upon lawmakers to toughen distracted driving laws in New York. In response to their son's death, which was caused in part by distracted driving, parents Ben and Debbie Lieberman formed the organization DORCs--Distracted Operators Risk Casualties. The organization seeks to inform the public about the dangers of distracted driving and calls upon state legislators to treat distracted driving as seriously as drunk driving.

While Plains resident Jacy Good, an advocate for DORCs, lost both of her parents and suffered a life-long injury as a result of being in a distracted driving car accident. Highlighting the dangers of distracted driving, Good stated, "It is critically important that distracted driving laws are as strictly enforced as drunk driving laws have become. We know that the simple act of having a conversation on a cell phone delays our reaction time and causes cognitive impairment resulting in attention blindness that leaves a driver with the same or worse driving ability as a driver with a .08 percent blood-alcohol content--the legal threshold for driving drunk."

car phone.jpgAs detailed in a USA Today story, on the early morning of June 16, 2011, 19-year-old Michael Fiddle was driving Evan Lieberman and two other friends to their summer job on Long Island. Fiddle got into a head-on collision that killed Lieberman and injured the two other passengers. Fiddle claimed that he fell asleep at the wheel. He never faced any criminal charges as a result of the fatal accident. However, as a result of a civil lawsuit filed against Fiddle by Lieberman's parents, investigators were able to subpoena Fiddle's cell phone records at the time of the crash. Administrative Law Judge Donna Marinacci ruled that the records showed that Fiddle was texting at the time of the accident which "constituted gross negligence in the operation of a motor vehicle" and showed a "reckless disregard for life." Fiddle's license was suspended for one year as a result of the ruling.

Mount Pleasant Police Chief Lous Alagno stated that distracted driving accidents can be difficult to prove. He remarked, "Without a witness, we usually have no way of telling. We would have to subpoena records, which can take time. Right now, it's difficult to prove."

Under current New York State law, driving while using a portable electronic device, such as a cell phone, is illegal. Such use of a device includes talking on a hand-held phone, texting, emailing or playing video games. Drivers can talk on a hands-free device or use their phone to call 911 in an emergency. Currently, drivers caught using an electronic portable device may receive five points on their license and receive a fine. First time offenders will receive a fine ranging from $50 to $100, plus a $93 surcharge.

July 10, 2014

FDNY Officials: No Working Smoke Detectors in Fatal Apartment Building Fire

Officials of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) stated that were no working smoke detectors in a Queens apartment building that caught fire in October 2013. The fire, which began in the basement around 2:00 p.m., quickly spread up a stairwell. After firefighters found a man unconscious in the attic, he was rushed to Long Island Jewish Medical Center with critical injuries; he was pronounced dead a short time later. Another man suffered from minor injuries after he jumped from a window to escape the burning apartment building. He was transported to a local hospital and is expected to recover. The blaze, which erupted at a two-story home on 94-67 Springfield Boulevard in Queens village, took one hour for firefighters to bring under control.

Over a one-week period in October 2013, five people were killed and four people were injured in residential house fires in New York City. In all cases, the homes or buildings lacked working smoke detectors. In 2012, 58 people were killed in New York City fires. Seventy-two percent of these fatalities occurred in homes or buildings that lacked smoke detectors.

Commenting on the fatalities that occurred over a short time period in October 2013, FDNY Commissioner Salvatore Cassano stated, "Five people we lost in fires, and no smoke detectors. In my mind these are preventable deaths."

In one fire that erupted in mid-October 2013, a 63-year-old taxi driver and his 91-year-old mother were killed after flames quickly engulfed their two-story brick Brooklyn home. FDNY officials stated that the fire was caused by a space heater that was powered by a long extension cord which was stapled to the floor. The staples exposed the copper wiring which began to spark. Several neighbors helped the man's wife, daughter and infant grandson escape from the home. However, neighbors, who reported that the heat caused the windows to explode, stated that the hot flames and heavy smoke prevented them from rescuing the taxi driver and his elderly mother.

candle.jpgDuring the same time period, three children were killed in a Bronx house fire caused by a burning candle. According to FDNY officials, unattended candles during the holidays are the cause of many fires. In addition, during the cooler months, people often try to heat large drafty home by turning on the over or stove burner. Such actions can result in house fires. Cassano stated that the causes of such fires can easily be eliminated. He stated, "These tragedies are preventable."

In response to the fatal fires, the FDNY handed out 1,000 free smoke detectors to city residents who didn't have one in their homes. In addition, the department also handed out battery-operated candles for people to use during the holiday season.

July 10, 2014

Repairman Charged with Felony Assault after Woman Seriously Injured in Brooklyn Elevator Accident

A Brooklyn grand jury indicted Jason Jordan, an elevator maintenance man, on felony assault and reckless endangerment charges in December 2011 for allegedly causing an elevator accident that severely injured a woman's arm and leg. In addition to causing the accident, prosecutors accused Jordan of fleeing the accident scene "without saying a word or offering help" to the victim. The woman, whose leg was badly mangled after being dragged outside of the elevator for eight floors, was hospitalized for three months and had to be treated at a long-term rehabilitation facility. She also suffered from psychological trauma and now fears riding in an elevator.

corridor.jpgOn Christmas Day in 2010, Debra Jordan, who is not related to the elevator mechanic, was visiting a sick friend with her daughter at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn. A video surveillance camera showed Ms. Jordan entering the elevator. However, before the doors were even closed, the elevator shot upward for eight floors while Jordan's left arm and leg hung outside of the cab. Prosecutors stated that Mr. Jordan, the mechanic, took a shortcut to repair the elevator and bypassed a safety mechanism designed to prevent the elevator from moving with the doors open. The Brooklyn District Attorney stated, "Screams could be heard throughout the hospital as she passed each floor, unable to free herself from this nightmare...what happened to Ms. Jordan was a direct result of the criminal conduct of the defendant." Surveillance video captured the mechanic looking up the elevator shaft at the screaming woman and then quickly exiting the building.

When firefighters and emergency personnel arrived on the scene, they had to first stabilize the elevator with clamps. They also had to apply a tourniquet to the woman's badly bleeding and almost severed leg. For nearly one hour, emergency responders used a gas-powered chainsaw to cut pieces of the elevator and sections of the floor. When she was finally freed, Ms. Jordan was rushed to Kings County Hospital where she underwent emergency surgery.

A person who witnessed the rescues stated, "A big chunk of her leg was missing. It looked like someone ripped it open with a knife." The witness also stated that the victim's foot appeared to be partially severed. While Ms. Jordan didn't need to undergo an amputation, her left arm and leg sustained multiple fractures as the result of the accident.

The Brooklyn DA's office pointed out that current New York State laws and regulations do not require elevator maintenance workers to be licensed or certified. Keith Wright, an assemblyman from Manhattan, stated that he is seeking to introduce a bill to require elevator mechanics to be properly trained to prevent future accidents.

Woman's leg 'mangled' as she's caught in elevator shaft, dragged up eight floors in Holiday horror, NY Daily News, Joe Kemp, December 26, 2010

2010 Brooklyn Elevator Injury Leads to Repairman's Indictment, NY Times, Liz Robbins, December 15, 2011

July 10, 2014

Elderly Driver in Diabetic Shock Crashes into White Plains Gas Station

A 69-year-old driver who was in diabetic shock crashed his vehicle into a gas station off of the Hutchinson River Parkway in White Plains in June 2014. The elderly man, who was incoherent at the time of the accident, was pulled from his burning car by an off-duty state trooper before it was engulfed in flames. The 69-year-old driver only suffered from minor injuries as a result of the accident, and he was taken to Westchester Medical Center. The off-duty police officer suffered from minor injuries when he was struck by a falling gas pump. The entire incident was captured by a video surveillance camera at the gas station.

gas pump.jpgJohn Vescio, the off-duty state trooper who saved the elderly man, stopped at the gas station to fill his unmarked police car at 11:00 a.m. As Vescio was fueling his vehicle, he noticed a Toyota pull into the service station at a high rate of speed. The Toyota then slammed into another vehicle and gas pump, causing a fire. Acting upon his police training, Vescio immediately pulled the elderly man from the car with the help of a bystander. The car then erupted into flames seconds later. Vescio instructed other customers at the gas station to back away from the flames because his unmarked car contained live ammunition. Although several people reported hearing several loud pops, officials from the White Plains Fire Department stated that none of the ammunition was every discharged. Southbound lanes of the Hutchinson Parkway were shut down for over an hour as a result of the accident and fire.

Discussing the incident, Vescio remarked, "It happened so quick. It was hard to think. I just pretty much reacted." State Police Captain Dominick Chiumento stated that Vescio "remained focused and committed to saving the life of the operator of the Toyota. If not for his swift response, the situation could have turned out much worse."

According to the National Institute of Health, elderly drivers can face many challenges that can affect their ability to drive safely. For instance, elderly drivers with diabetes can experience spikes in blood sugar levels while driving. These dangerous blood sugar changes can cause a driver to feel sleepy, drowsy or confused. In some cases, diabetic shock can result in seizures or even loss of consciousness while driving.

Elderly people suffering from arthritis can also face difficulties while driving. Stiff and inflamed joints can make it difficult for elderly drivers to hold the steering wheel properly. In addition, drivers with arthritis may have trouble turning their necks to view other cars or pedestrians. As a result, aging drivers should consult with their physicians to determine how their medical conditions may affect their ability to drive safely.

Website Resource: Hutch station fire: Hero trooper pulled man from flames, Richard Liebson, June 5, 2014

July 10, 2014

Five Men Wrongfully Convicted in Central Park Jogger Attack to Receive $41 Million Legal Settlement

New York City Controller Scott Stringer approved a $41 million legal settlement in June 2014 for five men who were wrongfully convicted and imprisoned for beating and raping a woman jogging in Central Park in 1989. Stringer stated that "this settlement is a prudent and equitable solution for all parties to the lawsuit and closes a very difficult chapter in the city's history." The settlement offers each man approximately $1 million for each year they were imprisoned and must now be approved by Manhattan U.S. District Court Judge Deborah Batts. The suit has been in litigation for over a decade. In 2007, Batts rejected the city's motion to dismiss the case under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration. However, Mayor Bill de Blasio stated that the city now has a "moral obligation to right this injustice" by settling the case. Under the agreement, the city is not admitting to any wrongdoing.

central park.jpgIn 1989, 28-year-old investment banker Tricia Meili, who has since written a book titled "I Am the Central Park Jogger," went for a run in Central Park. She was brutally beaten and raped and was in a coma for over six weeks. Due to her severe injuries, Meili does not remember anything about the attack. Five Hispanic and African-American teenagers, who were between 14 through 16-years-old at the time, were arrested and charged for the crime. The teenagers confessed to the brutal beating and rape, but they later retracted their statements. During two separate jury trials, the teenagers were convicted of the crime. Four of the teenagers, Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana and Antron McCray, each spent nearly seven years in prison. The remaining teenager, Kharey Wise, spent almost 13 years behind bars.

In 2002, Matia Reyes, a man serving 33 years to life for rape and murder, confessed that he was the Central Park attacker. After DNA evidence corroborated his confession, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau asked a judge to vacate the convictions of the five wrongfully accused men, who were subsequently released from prison.

After being released, the men filed a lawsuit claiming that the police and prosecutors engaged in misconduct in order to secure a conviction in the high-profile case. For instance, the men claim that the police coerced their confessions. In addition, the lawsuit states that the lead prosecutor, Elizabeth Lederer, told a jury that hair samples found on the clothing of one of the men matched the hair of the victim. The lawsuit states that this claim was untrue.

For over a decade, the Bloomberg administration fought the lawsuit on the grounds that the police and prosecutors acted appropriately in handling the case. In 2013, a spokesperson for the city's Law Department stated, "The case is not about whether the teens were wrongfully convicted. It's about whether prosecutors and police deliberately engaged in misconduct."

After taking office, Mayor de Blasio allowed the lawsuit to move forward. Speaking about the settlement, Salaam stated, "We've been waiting for 25 years for justice."

More on this story can be found in the NY Daily News and NY Times.

July 10, 2014

Settlement of Class Action Lawsuit Forces NYC to Repair Elevators Used by Disabled Tenants

elevatorbutton.jpgA class action lawsuit settled in September 2012 forced the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), a governmental agency that provides housing to low-income tenants, to repair malfunctioning and broken elevators used by disabled residents. The NYCHA operates more than 2,600 buildings throughout the city and is responsible for maintain 3,300 elevators. The class action lawsuit, which was filed in 2009, claimed that there was a "widespread and systemic failure to maintain the elevators in its buildings in operable working condition." Because many disabled tenants rely on the elevators to get to their apartments, the lawsuit stated that the city was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Wilma Brito, 38, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, suffers from cerebral palsy and is confined to an electric wheelchair. Brito stated that none of the elevators in her building were working for a period of three days. On one occasion, Brito said that she was stranded outside of her building for most of the night because the elevators weren't working. Debbie Bucote, 52, suffered from a stroke which left her paralyzed on one side of her body. She is also confined to a wheelchair. After the elevators in her building broke down, she was forced to walk down 18 flights of stairs with the help of an aide so that she could get to a doctor's appointment. Phyllis Gonzalez, 61, suffers from arthritis and other health problems. She stated that she was forced to slide down 12 flights of stairs while sitting down when the elevators in her building malfunctioned. The lawsuit also pointed out cases in which tenants were trapped in elevators or had to wait in the lobby for hours at a time while the elevators were being repaired.

Although the legal settlement did not include any monetary payments, it did force the NYCHA to follow a prescribed plan to repair and maintain the elevators in order to keep them in operating condition. For instance, the settlement requires that 70 percent of elevator outages be repaired within eight hours of being reported. In addition, the average number of citywide outages cannot exceed more than one outage per elevator per month. Moreover, the NYCHAA must create a schedule to perform preventative maintenance on the elevators to ensure that they are safe to use and functioning properly. The NYCHA must also file annual reports to show compliance with the settlement's conditions. Finally, the settlement allows disabled residents to request to be moved to a lower floor so that they are not severely impacted in the event of an elevator outage.

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer stated that the settlement protects the city's most vulnerable residents. He remarked, "It's about time. For far too long, NYCHA tenants with disabilities have been hostage to the Housing Authority's inability to repair, modernize or replace poorly functioning elevators."

Suit Says Faulty Elevators in Public Housing Violate Rights of Tenants, NY Times, Manny Fernandez, April 20, 2009

July 10, 2014

Woman Killed after 14-Ton Tractor Trailer with Inadequate Brakes Crashes into Ithaca Restaurant

Amanda Bush, 27, a bartender at Simeon's, a well-known bistro in Ithaca, New York, was killed in June 2014 after a large tractor trailer hauling passenger cars crashed into the restaurant. Police issued the truck's driver, 37-year-old Viacheslav Grychanyi, two traffic violations: one for having inadequate brakes, and one violation for driving an over-lengthed vehicle. Witnesses of the accident stated that the truck was going 40 to 50 mph when it slammed into the side of the building.

Police investigators stated that the truck was headed toward a pedestrian mall. In an apparent attempt to avoid hitting construction workers in the pedestrian area, the driver tried turning the truck onto a side road. However, the truck skimmed across a concrete barrier and then crashed into the restaurant located in an historic four-story building. The tractor trailer was hauling seven passenger cars at the time of the accident and is owned by Auto Star Transport, a company located in Washington.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), one in 10 highway fatalities involve large trucks. Because trucks need more time and space to stop, inadequate brakes are often a common cause of accidents involving trucks. In some cases, a truck's brakes were not adequately inspected or maintained. In 2012, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), proposed a regulation that would require large trucks to have electronic stability control (ESC). ESC on large tractor trailers would serve two purposes: first, by automatically regulating braking and engine power, the technology could prevent trucks from rolling over. Second, ESC would help the driver maintain control of the truck and prevent it from skidding in the wrong direction. The NHTSA estimates that 40 to 56 percent of truck roll-overs could be prevented by ESC. In addition, the agency estimated that 14 percent of truck accidents caused by loss-of-control could be prevented by the braking technology. Overall, the NHTSA determined that ESC would prevent 2,329 truck crashes, 858 injuries, and 60 fatalities every year.

Anne McCartt, senior vice president for research at IIHS, applauded NHTSA's recommendations to require large trucks to have ESC. She stated, "We commend the agency for moving ahead with an ESC mandate for new truck tractors and large buses independent of its ongoing research of single unit trucks. We encourage the NHTSA to expedite this research and also to explore the feasibility of a retrofitting requirement so a bigger proportion of the fleet benefits from ESC."

It is currently unclear if the truck involved in the fatal Ithaca accident was equipped with ESC. The accident is currently under investigation by officials from the Ithaca Police Department.

For more on this story, see pressconnects.com.

July 7, 2014

Long Island Contractor Fined Over $460K for Repeated Fall and Scaffolding Violations

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), the governmental agency responsible for workplace safety, fined Painting & Decorating Inc., a Ronkonkoma based painting and stucco contractor, $460,350 for chronic and repeated fall and scaffolding violations in December 2013. The Long Island company received 10 citations and fines totaling $429,600. Over the past several years, the company has received similar citations at five other worksites. The citations included failing to inspect scaffolding for defects before workers used them. In addition, the company was cited for missing planks and cross bracing on scaffolding. OHSA inspectors also noted that the company failed to provide fall protection equipment for workers and didn't adequately restrain scaffolding to prevent it from tipping.

hot construction girl.jpgIn addition, the company received five new citations and fines totally $30,690. One citation stated that the company failed to provide fall protection for workers while they were putting up scaffolding. The company also erected scaffolding on unsound footing. OSHA inspectors also observed that workers were climbing up cross bracing to access the scaffolding, and they were not wearing any eye protection. As a result of the violations, the company was placed on OSHA's Severe Violator Enforcement Program, which requires more OSHA inspections.

Commenting on the citations, Anthony Ciuffo, OSHA's Long Island area director, stated, "The sizable fines proposed reflect the ongoing failure and refusal for this employer to provide basic safeguards for its employees. Workers have repeatedly been exposed to deadly and disabling falls and crushing injuries. In this case, workers were exposed to falls of more than 26 feet."

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), construction workers make up seven percent of the national workforce. However, the construction industry had the second highest fatality rate of all occupations. Most of these fatalities were the result of falls. In many cases, construction workers either fell from a roof, scaffold, or ladder. In response to these fatal accidents, the CDC and OSHA announced the National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction from June 2 through June 6, 2014. During this event employers were encouraged to take the time to train and talk to employees about fall hazards and safety.

While falls are the leading cause of deaths and injuries in the construction industry, companies can take three simple steps to prevent such accidents. First, employers must plan jobs with safety in mind. Companies must consider the types of safety equipment that will be needed to complete a job. Second, companies must provide workers with safety equipment, such as personal fall arrest systems. Finally, employers must train workers about how to use safety equipment and identify potential safety hazards in order to prevent dangerous falls.

July 7, 2014

Toddler Suffers Injured Hand in NYC Escalator Accident

escalator2.jpgA 21-month-old boy was injured during an escalator accident in February 2013 at a Barnes & Noble bookstore on the Upper West Side. The toddler was going down the escalator with his nanny when his hand became trapped between two steps after he tripped and fell. A store employee stated that the escalator shut off automatically, and the boy was able to free his hand from between the steps. Firefighters who responded to the accident treated the boy for a hand laceration. He was taken to a local hospital for further evaluation.

According to escalator safety experts, the boy didn't suffer more serious injuries because the escalator's step-upthrust safety mechanism was working properly. The mechanism detects when something becomes entrapped between an escalator's steps and automatically shuts down the escalator to prevent further injury and damage. Safety experts also pointed out the importance of holding a child's hand while riding an escalator.

There are approximately 35,000 escalators in the United State, most of which are located in commercial and public buildings. Each escalator transports 12,000 people on an annual basis. A study conducted by the Consumer Product Safety Commission determined that 6,000 people are injured in escalator accidents each year. Seventy-five percent of these injuries are caused by trips and falls. Twenty-percent of these injuries are caused by entrapment, a situation in which a person's foot, hand or article of clothing becomes stuck between two stairs. In addition, the study concluded that escalator accidents result in two fatalities every year. Most of these deaths are caused by trips and falls that result in serious head trauma.

Several major escalator companies have been found liable in accidents over the past couple of years. For instance, Montgomery Escalator manufactured an escalator with faulty wiring, which caused an accident that injured 30 people. Schindler Elevator manufactured multiple escalators that contained defective parts. These parts caused numerous escalators to abruptly stop, causing people to lose their balance and fall. Over a period of one month, seven such accidents occurred in Washington, D.C. The company was also found liable in a 2009 accident that injured a three-year-old child.

One common type of escalator accident occurs when a person's foot becomes entrapped between two steps. In 2002, a 12-year-old boy suffered a major injury to his big toe after his foot became stuck between two steps. In 2003, a five-year-old girl was severely injured when her hand became stuck between two steps. As a result of the accident, part of the girl's hand and three of her fingers had to be amputated. Finally, in 2005, 71 New York City schoolchildren suffered minor injuries after the escalator they were riding on stopped abruptly and then jilted backwards, causing many children to fall.

See also the Elevator Accident Blog to read more about this incident.