Police Use New Law to Charge MTA Driver in Pedestrian Death

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MTA buses have killed eight pedestrians this year, seven of them in crosswalks.

An MTA driver has been charged with a new criminal version of Failure to Yield, after making a left turn into a 78-year-old Brooklyn man in a crosswalk.

Reginald Prescott, who was driving the B44 in East Flatbush, has been suspended from his driving duties, pending the investigation of the death of Jean Bonne-Année on Tuesday. Bonne-Année was declared dead at the scene by EMS responders.

Police used a new law that took effect in August. The statute can raise the Failure to Yield charge from a traffic infraction to a criminal misdemeanor, depending on the circumstances. Previously, only an aggravating factor, such as intoxication or driving without a license, could result in a criminal charge.

"There was only the traffic infraction, and you don't arrest people for infractions, and that was the problem," said Steve Vaccarro, an attorney and activist who lobbied for the change.

The legislation was passed by the city council and signed into law by Mayor de Blasio in June as part of his Vision Zero initiative to reduce pedestrian deaths.  Vaccarro said it has been invoked one other time, as far as he can tell, in the death of a woman on the Upper East Side in September. The NYPD did not return calls and emails requesting information.

The MTA issued a statement saying the agency "takes bus safety very seriously, and is working closely with the city's Vision Zero initiative." The news release said the MTA has been phasing in "more robust training for bus operators, an upcoming pilot program for new technology to warn pedestrians and bus operators of potential collisions, and new public service announcements to raise awareness of safety risks."

Spokesman Adam Lisberg, in the email, said there has been a 14% reduction in bus collisions involving pedestrians and a 6% reduction in bus collisions involving bicyclists.

Activists praised the NYPD for invoking the new statute, and said it should be used aggressively, not just by the Traffic Division's Collision Investigations Squad but by the precinct officers responsible for the bulk of law enforcement.

"The key is using that law every time there's a crash where the driver didn't yield," said Caroline Samponaro, from the group Transportation Alternatives. "What works against driver accountability is when enforcement is inconsistent and drivers fail to yield but there isn't any consequences. The message that needs to be sent to drivers is that when you're turning into a crosswalk, pedestrians have the right of way, and you need to slow down, and you need to stop."

The president of the Transit Workers Union Local 100 slammed the police charge.

"There was no culpability on the driver's part, and to have him arrested is outrageous," said TWU President John Samuelsen, in a statement through a spokesperson. "We're going to make this right, one way or the other."