News | Upper West Side

DA precedent means no criminal charges for cab driver who killed Cooper Stock

The taxi driver who hit and killed 9-year-old Cooper Stock in January will not be criminally charged and instead receive a ticket and fine, Stock’s mother Dana Lerner said she was told by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office on Wednesday.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission said, however, that it has decided on its own accord to not renew the taxi license of the driver, Koffi Komlani, when it expires on July 5.

Lerner said that the lack of criminal charges against Komlani was the result of the city’s “rule of two,” where the DA only charges drivers who have killed someone when they have also broken two traffic laws. Komlani was ticketed for failing to yield.

“It's not an official law. It's an interpretation of the law by judges,” Steve Vaccaro, a transportation lawyer who has advised Stock’s family, said. “In cases where a driver plainly and egregiously broke a traffic law and injured or killed someone, judges have rejected a finding of recklessness, on the rationale that any one traffic violation constituted mere negligence.”

Stock’s death was part of a string of pedestrian fatalities in January that have sparked movements across the city to reform traffic laws and improve pedestrian safety. Komlani was turning on to West End Avenue from 97th Street on January 10 when he hit Stock and his father, who were crossing the street.

Lerner said that the decision further proved that the city’s laws need changing.

“What the city and the state needs to do—failure to yield, that needs to be enough to criminally charge someone,” she said. “The man who killed my son is going to get a ticket and a $300 fine.”

Vaccaro said that the problem lies within the approach of the District Attorney.

“I’ve sat down and talked with DAs on behalf of families.  DAs believe that they need to have very high conviction rates.  And that’s a good thing.  On the other hand, I think that 90% or plus conviction rate means they are not taking chances,” Vaccaro said. “You can get outcomes that are more favorable to greater public safety if you were to push a little harder against these driver excuses.”

“I’m incredulous that the law allows for him not to press charges,” District 6 City Council member Helen Rosenthal said. “I think that if there is a way to give the DA better tools to prosecute in these cases, I’m looking for opportunities to help with that.”

After Stock’s death, Rosenthal introduced a bill widely called Cooper’s Law to the City Council, which would automatically suspend a driver’s TLC licence after they injure or kill a person, until an investigation is conducted.

Rosenthal said that she expects the bill to come to a vote at the council on May 29 or June 11.

“If the laws don’t change, nothing is going to happen,” Lerner said.

TLC spokesperson Allan Fromberg said that Komlani’s license will not be renewed once it expires on July 5.  Although Komlani still holds a license, he has not driven since the incident.  

The decision is at the agency's discretion by virtue of his having a first-year probationary license,” Fromberg said of the expiration of Komlani’s license.

“We are working closely with the council through the Mayor's Vision Zero initiative, and we were very pleased to have testified in full support of CM Rosenthal's bill,” Fromberg added.

Lerner said she remains hopeful that laws and the driving culture in the city can change to prevent pedestrian fatalities in the future. She said that the massive decrease in city’s crime rate over the past two decades was an example of what could be accomplished.

“I believe that we as New Yorkers should be able to figure out and come together and demand things change,” Lerner said.

Christian Zhang contributed reporting.

eva.kalikoff@columbiaspectator.com  |  @evakalikoff

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