The Brooklyn district attorney is slapping the driver who killed a 9-year-old boy in Fort Greene in November with murder charges.
Prosecutor Ken Thompson’s indictment of Anthony Byrd in the Nov. 2 killing of Lucian Merryweather (memorial pictured) is unusual because deadly drivers almost always skate with mere tickets unless they are drunk. The borough’s top lawman said that the prosecution is his way of trying to make our streets less mean.
“The people of Brooklyn must be free to walk down the streets of our borough without fear that they may be run over or injured by a motorist driving dangerously,” said Thompson in a statement announcing the indictment on Feb. 14.
Byrd, 59, lives two blocks from the site of the crash. He is charged with criminally negligent homicide, two counts of assault, and three traffic violations. This is no first-degree murder charge, which could carry life in prison, but it is certainly heavy-duty. The suspect faces up to four years in prison if convicted.
The terrible and chaotic moments leading up to Merryweather’s death began when Byrd allegedly drove his 2000 Ford Explorer onto the sidewalk of DeKalb Avenue at the corner of Clermont Avenue and hit a building and a parked car, according to the indictment. He then allegedly pulled a U-turn and headed in the wrong direction down DeKalb. Prosecutors say Byrd hit a second car before careening onto the sidewalk of Clermont Avenue, where his gas guzzler smashed into three pedestrians, injuring two and ending Merryweather’s life. Merryweather was walking with his mother and brother when the allegedly out-of-control motorist killed him.
Byrd’s lawyer Danielle Eaddy declined to comment, saying she had not yet seen the indictment, but added her client is not to blame.
“It was definitely an accident,” Eaddy said.
Street safety activists say the indictment is a step forward from the slap-on-the-wrist tickets that reckless drivers usually face, if they incur any consequences at all.
“It’s pretty groundbreaking here in New York City,” said Adam White, an attorney who specializes in cases involving motor vehicle accidents with pedestrians and cyclists. “That doesn’t happen typically.”
In most reckless driving cases, prosecutors look for an additional aggravating factor, like drinking, before bringing a criminal charge, White said.
“This an obvious indication that [Thompson is] taking reckless driving more seriously,” said White about the indictment.
Road-safety activist groups are taking note, too.
“This is the sort of thing that should be happening all the time,” said Keegan Stephan, an organizer with the organization Right of Way, which advocates for measures such as lowering the speed limit to 20 miles per hour.
Road warriors have long pushed for better enforcement of what they call “sober reckless driving.” They say law enforcement does not do a good job holding dangerous auto-pilots accountable.
“These incidents are considered accidents and to some extent inevitable,” said Juan Martinez, a spokesperson for the car critic group Transportation Alternatives.
“It’s important that district attorneys bring tough charges,” Martinez said. “It’s important for the families, but it also sends an important message to drivers on the road.”