Death of Ridgewood teen catalyzes push for harsher unlicensed driving penalties

Photo courtesy of the family of Kevin Flores, 13, who was killed by an unlicensed driver. State lawmakers are looking to increase the penalties for those who kill or injure others while driving with a suspended or revoked license in New York.

Legislation aimed at imposing harsher penalties on drivers involved in accidents while driving with a suspended, revoked or no license has advanced to the floor of the New York Senate for a second time.

Under current law, the most severe penalty a district attorney can seek in cases such as these is a misdemeanor. The bill (S.3299/A.3759), which was reintroduced by Sen. Michael Gianaris, D-Astoria, would increase that penalty to a class-E felony for seriously injuring a person, and a class-D felony if the accident resulted in a death. The maximum jail sentence would rise as well, from four years to seven.

Co-sponsors of the bill include Senators Joseph Abbado, Tony Avella, Neil Breslin, Brad Holyman, Andrew Lanza, Kevin Parker and Toby Stavisky.

According to Gianaris, the lack of appropriate penalties in cases such as these allows for repeat offenders to continue operating motor vehicles and cause harm.

“These dangerous drivers continue to kill because the current punishment for taking a life while driving without a valid license does not match the crime,” said Gianaris. “We need to get serious about improving our laws before another life is lost at the hands of drivers we know should not be behind the wheel.”

The renewed push for legislation comes Kevin Flores, a 13-year-old Ridgewood teenager, was killed Jan. 27, 2018 when he was struck by an oil truck as he rode his bicycle in Brooklyn. The teen was taken to Interfaith Hospital with severe head trauma where he was pronounced dead, according to the NYPD.

The driver of the truck, Phillip Monfoletto, was arrested at the scene and charged with one count of aggravated unlicensed operation of a vehicle. Monfoletto had nine license suspensions on his record and continued to drive with his suspended license.

Gianaris first introduced the bill after 8-year-old Noshat Nahian was killed by Mauricio Osorio-Palominos, an unlicensed driver, as he walked to school back in December 2013. Like Monfoletto, Osorio-Palominos was charged with one count aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle.

Gianaris pushed for urgency in getting the legislation signed into law after it passed the Senate last year, before failing in the Assembly.

Sen. Michael Gianaris

“Too many lives have been lost at the hands of drivers who should not have been on the road in the first place,” Gianaris said. “I am glad the Senate passed my bill and I urge the Assembly and Gov. Cuomo to follow suit and enact this important proposal into law immediately.”

As of Feb. 27, the bill had advanced to a third reading. No date for a vote has been set.

The Assembly bill is sponsored by Aravella Simotas.