NEW YORK—A car struck Dante Dominguez, a father of three, on a November night last year in Flushing. The car fled the scene. Dominguez died before the paramedics arrived.
The Dominguez family pleaded with the NYPD for nine days before an investigation was opened. A year later, the police located a witness. The driver was never found.
The City Council committee room fell silent Wednesday when Patrick Dominguez, Dante Dominguez’s brother testified with his two brothers beside him.
“When our brother was killed, we felt like we had nobody,” Patrick Dominguez said. “I just want something to be done, if not for us, then at least for other people.”
Dominguez and several street-safety advocates spoke in support of a bill that would require the police department to report on the steps its officers take to investigate hit-and-run accidents.
The new bill would require NYPD to provide council with biannual reports on investigations of hit-and-run accidents that result in serious injury or death. The bill’s supporters said investigations lack immediate attention, leading to the failure of catching the wrongdoers.
There were seven speeding cameras in the area of the hit-and-run that killed Dominguez. The footage was never reviewed for evidence, according to Council member Leroy Comrie. Police could have done more to provide closure to the Dominguez family, Comrie said.
Hit-and-run investigations typically conclude as dead ends due to lack of manpower and a need to be placed higher up on NYPD’s list of priorities, said Juan Martinez, a legislative director at Transportation Alternatives (TA). TA, a nonprofit, advocates for a goal of zero traffic fatalities in New York City, a plan the organization calls Vision Zero. Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio adopted the Vision Zero plan during his campaign.
“If the investigation doesn’t happen within hours of the crash, you rapidly lose invaluable evidence, witnesses walk away, they disappear, video gets overwritten, and when you don’t find the driver within a couple of days or weeks, then you never will,” Martinez said.
The council will have greater oversight of investigations through the reports, and holding NYPD accountable will improve the behavior of police, Martinez said. “It locks in the principle, the value, that safely comes first.”
The number of traffic fatalities rose from 158 in 2011 to 176 in 2012. There have been 168 fatalities so far this year.
Council member James Vacca offered his condolences to the three brothers and said the council is working hard on policy with the Department of Transportation (DOT).
“We are holding [DOT’s] feet to the fire when it comes to doing things quicker, and moving this issue on speeding and pedestrian safety to the forefront,” Vacca said.
Representatives from the NYPD were expected to testify at the hearing but canceled last minute.
“It’s disrespectful to the families that lost lives,” Comrie said.