Fatal Ozone Park crash raises questions

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City Councilman Eric Gioia (D−Sunnyside) and city transportation advocates are calling on the city to create new traffic and driver’s licence policies in light of last week’s accident involving the campaign bus of City Council candidate Michael Ricatto that took the life of a 9−year−old at a busy intersection.

Alexander Aponte, who was driving the recreational vehicle for Ricatto that struck Ibrihim Ahmed on Jan. 6 at the corner of Cross Bay and Rockaway boulevards in Ozone Park, was charged last week with driving with a suspended license, a misdemeanor, according to the Queens district attorney’s office.

Aponte, 22, was heading north on Cross Bay Boulevard when Ibrihim, on his way back home from school, was running west on the street to make a light, police said.

Police said since Aponte stayed at the scene of the accident and had a yellow light, there was no criminality involved. City transportation watchdog group Transportation Alternatives slammed the DA’s action against the driver, who was later released on $5,000 bail, because it contended the death could have been avoided if the politician’s staff had checked for the suspended license.

“In a city where deadly drivers are almost never held accountable, the slap on the wrist for people driving with suspended licenses is the last straw,” said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives.

Ricatto, who is running to replace state Sen. Joseph Addabbo’s (D−Howard Beach) vacated Council seat in Howard Beach, released a statement hours after the accident, extending his condolences to the Ahmed family and pledging to temporarily suspend his campaign. James McClelland, Ricatto’s spokesman, said the candidate resumed his campaign Saturday following the boy’s funeral.

Neither he nor Ricatto had a comment on Aponte’s arrest.

Gioia said the accident indicated that the city needs to pay better attention to its roadways, especially the accident−prone ones. Several residents who live ear the intersection where Ibrihim was struck said there had been several accidents at the spot, including a hit−and−run incident in September.

“We know where these kids are walking and we need to be proactive in taking steps to ensure their safety,” Gioia said in a statement. “We need regular traffic studies around all schools, not just a select few, and on a regular timetable.”

The councilman called on the city to increase pedestrian walk times at schools, install cameras at high traffic intersections and traffic studies for all streets around city schools.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e−mail at or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 146.

Updated 6:35 pm, October 10, 2011
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