A man named Christopher Devita was behind the wheel of a tow truck recently when his vehicle plowed into a car in Brooklyn, N.Y., and killed a woman. Devita was a driver who had been stopped and ticketed 50 times since 1985, at which time his driver's license was suspended. What was he, a proven dangerous and unlicensed driver, doing on the streets operating a truck?
New York State's Department of Motor Vehicles does not report on repeat offenders to the New York City police. Police do not conduct more than a routine check when a driver is stopped. And the city's Department for Consumer Affairs, which licenses tow-truck companies and drivers, merely conducts spot checks on those companies.
``Our job is just to issue the suspensions, keep a record on the computer, and that's it,'' said George Fileau, a spokesman for the Department of Motor Vehicles. ``When we see a case like this, we know the system hasn't worked.'' The victim of that system failure was Alicia Sanmartin, 27, who was killed instantly. Her husband and two children were injured.
Officials find the only time Devita did respond to a ticket, appearing in a Brooklyn criminal court in December 1989, was when he was involved in a fatal accident in which a homeless man was killed in Brooklyn. He was convicted of driving with a suspended license and paid a $200 fine. The court did not handle any of his 20 outstanding cases of having failed to respond to summonses. According to Motor Vehicle Department records, Devita's license was suspended indefinitely in December 1985, when he failed to respond to a summons issued for a moving violation. In the seven years since, Devita has been issued 50 more summonses. He failed to respond to 49 of them, and each time he did not appear a new notice of license suspension was attached to his record. The most recent notice was filed Aug. 2. The word is that when Devita was stopped by police, he usually would say that he didn't have his license on him and would then simply ignore the ticket that was issued.
Every year, hundreds of Americans die because of careless and drunken drivers who are allowed to keep operating vehicles after committing serious crimes. One thinks of the dead from our wars, such as the approximately 53,000 who died during the ill-fated Vietnam experience, and has to shudder with the realization that about 50,000 Americans die each year in motor vehicle wrecks.
The fact so many of those traffic deaths are caused by people like Christopher Devita who are driving illegally makes this tragic situation every bit as shameful as the waste of life in a questionable war.