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Advocacy groups hail passing of Justice for Hit and Run Victims Act

A tearful Marta Puruncajas holds a portait of her son after the City Council passes the Justice for Hit and Run Victims Act.
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Just five days shy of the one year anniversary of the death of her 19-year-old son, Luis Bravo, Marta Puruncajas clutched a portrait of him and wept as an announcement was made in the Red Room at City Hall. The Justice for Hit and Run Victims Act had been passed unanimously by the City Council Tuesday, drastically increasing the penalties for drivers involved in hit-and-runs in which a victim is seriously injured or killed.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who proposed the legislation after three people were killed by hit-and-run drivers in his district in the last 18 months, said the bill would establish civil penalties of up to $10,000 for fleeing the scene of a collision. He then spoke of Bravo, 64-year-old Kumar Ragunath, who was struck and killed crossing Northern Boulevard in March and 20-year-old Karen Pheras, who was hit by a motorcyclist at Queens Plaza North in October.

“All lost their lives because of the unconscionable actions of reckless drivers who showed no concern for the lives of these three people,” Van Bramer said. “We will never know if one or all of them could have been saved had the drivers done the right thing: stopped their car and called 911. With the passage of The Justice for Hit and Run Victims Act we are sending a message directly to hit-and-run drivers that leaving a fellow New Yorker to die in the streets is unconscionable, and if you do this, you will be punished.”

After the announcement, Marta Puruncajas spoke of the death of her only son, who was struck and killed as he walked eastbound on Broadway in Woodside. Police never found the driver of the dark colored sedan who drove away from the scene.

“Since my son was killed, life has been impossible,” she said. “I have a young daughter and I have to keep going for her, but in my heart I cry. I miss him in silence. It is a burden I carry from morning to night.”

Van Bramer also honored representatives from Make Queens Safer with a Proclamation on behalf of the City Council. The group led a candlelight vigil and march through the street of Jackson Heights last fall and never stopped raising awareness by encouraging increased enforcement of traffic laws, safety-minded street design and deterring the actions of reckless drivers.

The co-founders of the advocacy group, Dr. Laura Newman and Cristina Furlong, issued a statement saying, “There is only so much shock, sadness, and disbelief a community can feel before the impetus for change grabs hold. When it grabs hold of a small army of parents, a community may never be the same. Make Queens Safer was born this way.”

The Justice for Hit and Run Victims Act will go into effect 90 days after it is signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, which he is expected to do as part of his Vision Zero initiative.

Paul Steely White, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives said, “Hitting someone with a car and then fleeing the scene is one of the most heinous crimes. Hit-and-run drivers leave victims exposed and without treatment in the street, they leave investigators without key information, and they leave families feeling that they’ve been denied closure. This bill will help deliver aid and justice to crash victims as quickly as possible and deter reckless driving and prevent crashes in the first place.”

A mass, in memory of Luis Bravo, will be held on Sunday, Sept. 28 at 1:30 p.m. at Blessed Sacrament Church, at 34-43 93rd Street, in Jackson Heights.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

Updated 2:41 pm, September 25, 2014
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Reader feedback

Alex from queens village says:
There was a 14 year old teenager playing the street and a 28 year old guy slammed his braked and just briefly grabbed her arm to chastise her for playing the street, he did not anything else.

His reward? Lifetime sex offender registration, SORNA , us marshalls, adam walsh act high risk, and in some states being forced to carry an ID that has "sex offender on it".

The courts have upheld it, even though he was not convicted of kidnapping or in fact any sexual crime at all, apparently temporarily "detaining someone under 18", is a sex crime on par with child rape.

And no, he did not force her into a car or anything like that, so next time you temporarily restrain anyone under 18, be it your niece or nephew (the law only exempts parents) be aware of that law. The law makes no distinction of you grab someone's arm for a couple of minutes and lock someone in a room even if you do nothing inappropriate.

Of course had he ran over the girl with his car and not stopped, he would have been better off, the worst he could get hit with some charges, but no "lifetime sex offender" label, us marshalls press release, adam walsh act restrictions, possible IDs saying sex offender,etc.

Sometimes politicians make the laws that make a hit and run more encouraging. Also, you can't always trust the police and the courts will listen to your side of the story. The police of course view everyone as guilty and have to assume you might be lying especially if someone else's story is different, they don't know what to believe and can falsify and exaggerate stories.

Last time I checked there is no "public registry" for DUI offenders, or even violent criminals such as gang members who won't hesitate to beat an innocent person with a baseball bat, or execute a person for a drug loan, or even their innocent family members. But of course when a politician mentions the word "sex" it invokes taboos and a problem, so they tout press releases, this bill, that bill,etc to "Solve" a problem.

Don't trust politicians they think we were all born yesterday. Want legal advice, hire or call an qualified attorney.

Also the law only imposes a civil fine, and $1,000 is nothing in many instances.
Feb. 12, 2015, 6:35 am

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