Justice for Allison Liao

On October 6, 2013, three-year old Allison Liao was crossing Main Street in Flushing, New York hand-in-hand with her grandmother, Chin Hua Liao. They had the walk signal and were in the crosswalk.

Ahmad Abu-Zayedeh was driving north on Cherry Avenue and made a left turn. He claims to have not seen anyone in the crosswalk.

To hear him (or, rather, his lawyer) tell it today, Allison darted in front of the car. Video found during investigation, however, shows that Allison never left her grandmother’s side. You can see the crash at the two minute mark of this video, but be warned that it’s extremely disturbing.

Since Allison’s death, there has been no justice. Abu-Zayedeh stayed at the scene and was turning on a green light, so Queens DA Richard Brown declined to press charges. Abu-Zayedeh was left with just two tickets, for failure to yield to a pedestrian and failure to use due care. Then, in a 47-second hearing, and for no clear reason, an administrative judge at the DMV threw out both tickets. The Liaos and their supporters in the livable streets community were horrified.

One last chance came on January 6, 2015, when Abu-Zayedeh had a safety hearing at the DMV. These hearings are supposed to occur within one year of every fatal crash. An administrative law judge can, through this hearing process, choose to suspend or revoke a license. The process involved a viewing of the video of the death, statements from the NYPD officers and detective on the case, and a statement from Abu-Zayedeh’s lawyer. The Liao’s were not allowed to testify, and the judge declined attempts by the family’s lawyer, Steve Vaccaro, to include evidence such as Abu-Zayedeh’s BAC at the time of the crash and a previous suspension of his New Jersey license. In the end, the judge deferred the decision.The Liaos will be informed of the eventual decision at an undetermined time. To them, that’s not good enough. Abu-Zayedeh’s tickets were dismissed in 47 seconds. To wait days, weeks, or months for this ruling is unacceptable.

Later that day, a large crowd gathered at the intersection of Main Street and Cherry Avenue for a vigil for Allison. The Liaos spoke, as well as Vaccaro, elected officials, and Amy Cohen. Amy’s 12-year-old son Sammy was killed by a driver just two days after Allison’s death, and Amy and the Liaos work together as a part of Families for Safe Streets. The message was clear: Traffic violence must be stopped. This is about Allison, but it’s about more than her. 140 pedestrians were killed by automobiles in NYC in 2014. It’s going to take a lot to change that, but a vital beginning is holding drivers accountable. Unfortunately, at the DMV, that beginning is deferred indefinitely.

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