Adams calls for street safety improvements after death of infant, but scuffles with activists on immediacy

Borough President Eric Adams speaks at the intersection where 3-month-old Apolline Mong-Guillemin was killed by a reckless driver this weekend.
Photo by Ben Brachfeld

Borough President Eric Adams, the Democratic nominee for mayor, called for street safety improvements on Monday at the site of a deadly car crash where a driver killed a 3-month-old baby, Apolline Mong-Guillemin, and critically injured her mother — though, not without clashing with activists over the urgency.

Adams stood at the site of the crash — the intersection of Gates and Vanderbilt avenues in Clinton Hill — to call for various street safety measures intended to prevent similar tragedies. That includes, for instance, funding and enforcement of legislation that would allow the city to impound vehicles with a high number of speed or red light camera violations, unless the driver takes a motorist safety course. Adams also expressed interest in lifetime license suspension for repeat reckless driving.

The bill was signed by the mayor in February 2020 but funding for it was not included in the city’s pandemic-era budgets. The car involved in the infant’s death, a 2017 Honda Civic, has been ticketed 91 times for speeding in a school zone, well in excess of the reckless driver bill’s stipulated 15 violations, and has accumulated 160 traffic violations overall since 2017. The driver, 28-year-old Tyrik Mott of Crown Heights, has been arrested.

“Those numbers are just horrendous — 35 this year alone,” Adams said at the Sept. 13 press conference. “There’s no reason this vehicle was still on our streets.”

Adams also called for rolling out a “master plan” for the city’s streets and increasing the city’s budget for redesigning dangerous traffic corridors, and at the state level, for Albany to pass bills allowing the city to set its own speed limit and run its school-zone speed cameras 24/7, and expand the program. “The more we decrease speed limits, the more we save lives,” he said.

“A dangerous vehicle is not only dangerous during the daytime,” Adams said. “It is dangerous throughout the entire day. It makes no sense to have a powerful tool that we are only allowing during school hours. Let’s use it 24/7.”

Behind the beep sits an NYPD squad car parked in the Vanderbilt Avenue bike lane.Photo by Ben Brachfeld

Adams nonetheless encountered opposition from street safety advocates: a reckless driver in a blue sports car sped through a red light right past the press conference while state Sen. Andrew Gounardes spoke, as NYPD officers parked across the street (in the Vanderbilt Avenue bike lane) failed to act. The crowd, which included advocates and relatives of those lost to reckless drivers, shouted down the beep while chanting “fix our streets.”

“What we should not do is attack those of us who are on the front line of this issue,” Adams retorted to the crowd, arguing that he, in fact, was on the front lines of the safe streets issue. A member of the crowd, Nicole Murray of the Democratic Socialists of America, responded “the dead baby’s on the front line, not you. They’re on the front line, not you.”

In a follow-up statement, a spokesperson for Adams said that the reckless driver who sped by the vigil demonstrated the need for a “holistic rethinking” of the city streetscape, and encouraged people to send tips in to the NYPD.

“The car speeding behind us underscored the need for a holistic rethinking of our streets to deter reckless driving,” said Adams spokesperson Jonah Allon. “We also encourage civilians who witness something like this to take a picture or video and send it to their local precinct. Everyone must play a role in stopping reckless driving, especially officers on patrol.”

Activists posited that they feel exhausted from having repeated vigils for children killed by traffic violence as the city sits idly by.

“We’re tired of standing at these vigils, with families who have to stand here and retell their stories over and over again, to the deaf ears of our elected leaders who will stay in front of us,” said Danny Harris, executive director of safe streets advocacy group Transportation Alternatives. “We need action.”

TransAlt will be holding an additional rally Tuesday afternoon at Union Square, demanding “no more statements” and “immediate action now” in a tweet. Another advocacy group present on Monday, Families for Safe Streets, held a vigil outside City Hall on Tuesday morning.

“These horrific deaths and injuries are preventable,” said Anna Kovel, the mother of Lucian Merryweather, who lost his life at just 9 years of age in 2013, mere blocks away from the intersection where Mong Guillemin was killed. “Mayor, I hope you’re listening. We need you to act now. No more promises. We cannot wait any longer for change. Not one more person should be killed or injured on these streets.”

When asked about the crash at his Sept. 13 press briefing, Mayor Bill de Blasio listed off street safety priorities largely in line with Adams, including implementing the program to impound the vehicles of reckless drivers, as well as state legislation to allow the city to set its speed limits and control its own speed cameras.

“Our laws in this state are still too lax when it comes to reckless drivers,” Hizzoner said. “We’ve got to fix our laws and we’ve got to do it quickly and we need help from Albany.”

The mayor’s apparent punting of much responsibility to Albany was the subject of ire by speakers at the press conference.

“We need action, and we all know that,” Gounardes said. “But it’s not action just from Albany, and people who say it’s just from Albany need a reality check. We need action not just from City Hall, and people who say it’s just from City Hall also need a reality check. We need action from all of us. There is no reason why this has to continue happening. There is no reason why that precious baby’s family has to now live their lives with that hole in their hearts.”

NYPD traffic data shows that fatal crashes have increased by 26 percent this year over last, with 189 people dying in car crashes citywide this year. In the Brooklyn North patrol borough, deaths have increased by over 130 percent. Streetsblog notes, however, that the number of moving violations issued by the NYPD in June of this year was less than half of what the department issued in June of 2019.