The state Senate last week approved legislation that would increase penalties for drivers who kill or seriously injure another person while driving with revoked, suspended or otherwise invalid licenses.
Under the measure reintroduced by state Sen. Michael Gianaris, anyone caught driving a motor vehicle without a valid license who strikes or kills a pedestrian would face a felony charge punishable by up to four years in jail.
Under current law, the most severe charge such drivers face is a violation for driving without a license. Penalti3s for the current charge are likened to getting a parking ticket, a moving violation or a speeding ticket, Gianaris said.
Gianaris introduced a similar bill o the senate in 2014, but the measure never made it to the senate floor for a vote during the 2014 legislative session. The Astoria lawmaker reintroduced the bill in March 2015 following a spate of fatal accidents, including the hit-run death of Kunnin Ubonwan, 26, who was struck by a box truck driven by an unlicensed driver as she attempted to cross Woodside Avenue near 76th Street in February 2015.
The truck driver, Valentine Gonzalez, 27, fled the scene but was captured by police a short while later on 73rd Street and 41st Avenue, police said. Gonzalez was charged with leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death and was issued a violation for driving without a license.
Gianaris spoke at a press conference on Woodside Avenue following the deadly hit-run where he said, “We’re here now for the third time in a little over a year in western Queens alone, dealing with an accident where someone who did not have a proper license to drive has killed somebody.”
Gianaris was also referring to the 2013 death of 8-year-old Noshat Nahian and the 2014 death of Angela Hurtado, 68, both of whom were struck and killed by unlicensed drivers.
Noshat Nahain was walking to school with his sister, Nousin, 11, in December 2013 when he was fatally struck by a tractor-trailer at 61st Street and Northern Boulevard in Jackson Heights. Nahain, a third-grader at PS 152, was carrying a gift for his teacher when he ran ahead of his sister and was caught under the rear wheel of the truck, police sources said.
The driver, Marice Palominow, 51, was arrested on multiple charges, including third-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle in violation of safety rules.
“I am glad the Senate passed my proposal to get tough on dangerous drivers,” Gianaris said. “We need to crack down on drivers who should not be on the road before the next tragedy occurs, not after.
“Too many families have grieved at too many vigils, and too many people have died because of these bad drivers,” Gianaris said. “I am glad the Senate passed my bill and I urge the Assembly and Gov. Cuomo to follow suit and enact this important proposal into law immediately.”