The district attorney charged a sickly motorist with reckless manslaughter for hitting and killing a man in East Flatbush last year, claiming the driver with multiple sclerosis knew better than to get behind the wheel in his condition.
“This was a preventable death that could have been avoided if the defendant had listened to his own doctor’s advice, instead he got behind the wheel and now an innocent father is dead,” said Eric Gonzalez.
The 41-year-old defendant was in the driver’s seat of his 2004 Nissan Pathfinder on Avenue A near Remsen Avenue around 5:20 pm on Jan. 9, 2017, when his neurological condition caused his leg to seize up on the gas pedal, sending his car hurtling down the street at a speed of at least 60 miles per hour, where it struck six vehicles before plowing into victim Marlon Palacios near Linden Boulevard about two blocks away.
A subsequent investigation revealed that the motorist’s physician told him not to drive following his multiple-sclerosis diagnosis, Gonzalez said.
The top prosecutor charged the defendant with second-degree manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, and reckless driving before a Supreme Court judge on Thursday, and the man faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted, Gonzalez said.
The ill man’s indictment came after two other high-profile fatal collisions, in which drivers with suspended or expired licenses hit and killed pedestrians but were not charged with manslaughter.
Last month, Philip Monfoletto killed 13-year-old bike rider Kevin Flores in Bedford-Stuyvesant while behind the wheel of an oil truck with a suspended license.
Monfoletto stayed at the scene, where police arrested him for driving with a suspended license, and the next day Gonzalez charged him with aggravated unlicensed operation of a vehicle, a criminal misdemeanor. But the driver, whose license was suspended 9 times before he hit Flores, could not be charged with a felony, which can only be issued to a motorist with 10 suspensions at the time of his or her arrest.
But Gonzalez decided in January that there was not enough evidence to bring charges against Nunez — who drove off after plowing into Ramirez — and cops slapped him with a summons for operating the truck without the correct class of license after their investigation determined the driver didn’t know he hit the 27-year-old.
And neither man was subject to manslaughter charges because driving without a license isn’t considered reckless under the law, according to a spokesman for Gonzalez, who said the sickly man was indicted because prosecutors believe his condition directly caused Palacios’s death.
“It’s not the same as driving with an expired classification,” said Oren Yaniv. “In order to prove manslaughter in the second degree, you have to prove the conduct directly led to the death. The fact that [Nunez’s] license classification expired did not cause the crash.”
And the district attorney’s office is right, according to one personal-injury attorney, who likened driving with multiple sclerosis to getting behind the wheel with “horse blinders” on.
“If I put on a pair of horse blinders and intentionally impaired my ability to drive, then got in a car, they’d say that’s sheer recklessness,” said Charles Wisell, who practices in the outer borough of Manhattan. “If I didn’t have a license, I’m guilty of unlicensed use of a motor vehicle, but that doesn’t mean my ability to operate was impaired.”
But unlike driving without a license, it is not illegal to drive with multiple sclerosis, Yaniv said. The penalties are simply far more severe when drivers with the condition kill someone, he said.
And if the law is what’s letting unlicensed drivers off the hook, then it should be changed, according to Borough President Adams, who demanded stiffer penalties for unlicensed motorists in the wake of Flores’s death.
“There’s a reason for vehicle licenses; in the wrong hands, they can be deadly weapons,” the beep wrote on Twitter. “We need criminal penalties for unlicensed drivers in deadly crashes.”
An attorney for the defendant with multiple sclerosis did not return a request for comment by press time.